Monday, May 07, 2007

The God Delusion - Passage #1

The issue of undeserved respect (The God Delusion - Chapter 1 by Richard Dawkins):

It is possible that religious readers will be offended by what I have to say, and will find in these pages insufficient respect for their own particular beliefs (if not the beliefs that others treasure). It would be a shame if such offence prevented them from reading on, so I want to sort it out here, at the outset. A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts – the non-religious included – is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to any other. Douglas Adams put it so well, in an impromptu speech made in Cambridge shortly before his death, that I never tire of sharing his words:
  • "Religion . . . has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? – because you're not!' If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says 'I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday', you say, 'I respect that'.

    Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows – but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe . . . no, that's holy? . . . We are used to not challenging religious
    ideas but it's very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why
    those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be."

People should obviously feel free to believe in whatever they choose. But should belief in certain things be off limits to criticism?


CyberKitten said...

dbackdad said: People should obviously feel free to believe in whatever they choose.

Absolutely agree.

dbackdad then asked: But should belief in certain things be off limits to criticism?

No - but you knew I'd say that didn't you? [chuckle]. There is no reason why any belief is somehow 'beyond criticism' - why should it be?

Laura said...

In general, I agree. Some people get automatically offended by religious disagreement or discussion or jokes. Tell a N---er joke - no problem. Make fun of Jesus - that's too far.

But let's get one thing straight... only certain religions qualify for this passage. Only religions that people believe are 'worthy' of respect or are deemed 'real' religions are protected by this common code of conduct. I myself have been the brunt of attacks on my religious beliefs. My beliefs are obviously not protected under the common courtesy of respect. That's because they're "weird". Really, only the main monotheistic religions and some forms of Buddhism are considered untouchable to most people. Everyone else are just heathens that it's ok to make fun of or make movies falsifying our beliefs...

Just something to consider.

CyberKitten said...

Good point Laura, though that might be a case of some religions giving other ones a hard time maybe? I think it also depends on where you live. Although Wicca (for example) is a recognised religion in the USA I'm guessing that Wiccans are given a harder time on that side of the pond that on this side.

Over here we tend to think of religious affiliation to be a private affair - no matter how 'weird' it is [grin]. Public displays of personal beliefs are normally considered to be rather rude.

I used to wear a Pentagram myself for a while. I was surprised at the number of knowing nods & smiles I got because of it... to say nothing of the ocassional 'Blessed Be'.

dbackdad said...

Laura said, "Some people get automatically offended by religious disagreement or discussion or jokes." - It's a very fine line that we walk. I believe that people should inherently deserve my respect until they prove to me that they don't deserve it. Just as I would not tell racist jokes, I refrain from religious jokes (as much as I can). There is a difference, however, between jokes about things that people cannot choose (their race, sexual orientation) and those about their personal beliefs (religion). As CK said, "There is no reason why any belief is somehow 'beyond criticism'". If I believed in UFO's, I would certainly understand that my beliefs would be fair game for criticism and mocking. I may not like it but I would undertand that I shouldn't be automatically immune from it.

Academic discussions (like we have here) shouldn't offend anyone as long as we stay respectful.

Sadie Lou said...

Haven't you guys ever heard people making fun of their family member but if someone else makes fun of their family--watch out!
I view it much the same way.
I respect what people hold dear to their hearts. There are boundries.
When I think of Jesus being tortured and mocked and humiliated, it hurts me--I'm sensitive to it. It makes me sad. Why would someone want to make fun of that?
Now, I don't mean we can't be critical of faith. Sure. I go to atheist blogs to learn what non believers have to say and we talk about things.
But I will draw the line at disrespect.
I hate it when people crap on Jesus. I hate those snarky T-Shirts and Bumperstickers--it infuriates me and people that subscribe to those "jokes" know exactly how it makes people feel and they don't CARE.
It would be like if i wore a T-Shirt that showed a picture of atheists burning in hell and the joke said "HAHA LOSERS!"
It's just meanspirited and divisive.
Being critical is tolerated and encouraged--being a jerk is not.

dbackdad said...

"Being critical is tolerated and encouraged--being a jerk is not." Couldn't agree more.

Eric said...

I think dogma/faith/religon (or at least the mainstream ones) seem above debate because there's a tacit agreement that none of us will see eye to eye, and that your faith will not make sense to me, or mine to you, and we'd best not discuss it at all, for fear the tension will rise to (forgive me) biblical proportions. For that mater, there's the little inter-nicene conflicts that have taken place in the Christian church from time to time, so even getting Christians to conduct a civil debate about their faith isn't so easy.

Wandering outside of a faith's frame of reference into anothers' renders debate impossible. Do Scientology's aliens and volcanos scare me? Am I jealous of the LDS's holy garments, ensuring some sort of eternal benefit aside from insulation? Does the Hindu look at Christian baptism and think, "gee, some grace from that Jesus guy would certainly be handy in getting a good incarnation the next time I come back to earth"?

To me what I know as a quasi-logical person is driven by my education, by observation, and reason. I can argue about what I know, and I can be convinced that what I think I know is wrong, and change what I know.

What I believe is another matter. It might be better to call it what I hope. I hope there's an afterlife, roughly conforming to the Judeo-Christian theology (but maybe without so much hell, and maybe a little easier to get into, and not so exclusive), but I can't prove an afterlife anymore than I can disprove the Norse creation mythos.

Laura said...

dback said :"Academic discussions (like we have here) shouldn't offend anyone as long as we stay respectful."

I cordially invite you to my family gatherings then... ;)

You're right it shouldn't offend if you remain respectful, but that's the point I was trying to make. To some people the mere suggestion that their 'truth' is not universally held is an insult in and of itself. Then there's the problem of only certain beliefs garnering automatic respect. If I was discussing religion and said that I believe that Zeus and Hera and all their diety children lived on Mt. Olympus and that Athena sprung from Zeus's head (which I don't, but just to give an example) I would be dismissed out of hand. But what makes that so much more ludicrous than Noah's Ark?

The key issue here is automatic respect (I remember this coming up at Sadie's a while back) and how certain people/systems of belief are more apt to receive it than others. Conversely the same can be said about automatic disrespect.

dbackdad said...

"The key issue here is automatic respect" - Exactly. And that was the point that Dawkins was trying to make. There is no more inherent respect deserved in the belief in God, than in Wicca, Judaism, atheism, etc. You can have an automatic respect for people's beliefs, but not just because it is one religion or another.