Not So Bright, Not So Liberal II: The Attack of the Atheists

One of our valued readers left, in part, the following as a comment to Jonathan’s earlier post:

Wouldn’t atheists find the assertion from religious people that they are plugged into some cosmic truth through their faith to be smug, arrogant and insulting? But I suppose it’s only a sin if the other side does it. If you do it it’s just asserting the obvious.

I started typing a comment in reply, which had a hostile tone. I deleted it. Then I decided to just leave it there, move on. Then on third thought I decided I would respond. But that comment got out of hand. I then had a fourth thought, the old saying about never arguing with the guy who buys ink by the barrel — “hey, this is my blog, I’ll just put MY response out in the open”. So here it is:

The tone, sir, the tone. The gratuitously insulting tone. We must work on that. Civility is a virtue which we all should have. It is the mortar holding together our pluralistic society. It is the foundation of our priceless civil peace, which is the envy and wonder of the world. So, starting out assuming that someone who disagrees with you has various moral failings is bad form socially and bad citizenship, as well as being intellectually unsound.

I will tell you that the Roman Catholic religion is true. I assert that. I assume the burdens of that assertion. I try to live up to the standards imposed on me by that assertion. This necessarily means that I also assert that contradictory statements are not true. (Incidentally, I certainly don’t think this is an “obvious” truth, so you are wrong about that. It takes some prayer, reflection, experience and study to get there. I’ll also assert that it is worth the effort.)

OK, I did it. I have made a “truth” statement. Pause. Look around. The sky has fallen on neither of us. Nor does that mean I cannot remain friends with people who do not make this assertion, or who aren’t sure, or who don’t want to think about it. There is no inconsistency between my assertion of the truth of Roman Catholicism and my genuine friendship with and respect and affection for those who do not do so. You have a poor, and false, idea of Roman Catholicism if you think otherwise.

We all live, function, act and think based on what we believe to be true. All human conduct is necessarily rooted in some set of premises about what is true. These premises may be well thought out, not thought out, or incoherent, but these premises are there. So, making an assertion that something is true does not present any problem in itself. We all do that all day long, in deed if not in word.

Now, some people may say, “if you cannot show me empirically or by means of scientific, quantifiable measurements, that your religious belief is true, then you may not speak about it.” I reject this. I reject the proposition that someone may engage me on a life or death matter, in fact a life-after-death matter, and say that I must accept that person’s truncated and false view of the world and of humanity and of what constitutes relevant evidence, all as some kind of ground rule for having a conversation. That strikes me as smug and arrogant, to use your adjectives. Someone initiates a conversation with me and insists that certain relevant matter is off limits, ab initio? Sorry, dude, Lex don’t play that.

Now, if the tone of religious believers whom you have met has been “smug, arrogant and insulting” that is a bad thing. That is not how it is supposed to be done. Christianity is supposed to be about love, charity, patience, understanding, service, humility, etc. It’s in the New Testament in a bunch of places. You can look it up. Also, many people down the centuries have actually approached this ideal, some of whom we know as saints, most of whom are known only to God. I have found that this approach is far more common among sincere believers, even among those Christians who think my Catholicism will damn me to Hell, than anything like what you describe. But, hey, you had some bad experiences. Sorry about that. But I repudiate your judgement of me based on your experience with some unknown third parties. I refuse to be included in whatever group of people you had a bad experience with. And I reject your categorical lumping of religious believers into some pejorative category. And I am mystified that you think anyone with any self-respect would just knuckle under to such overbroad and, frankly, bigoted statements.

Anyway, we believe in open and even hard-hitting free speech on this blog. But let’s treat each other with respect. Our model should be the old Victorians like Lord Acton, Cardinal Newman, Mill, James Fitzjames Stephen, Gladstone, all of whom were engaged from time to time in debates pertaining to religion in one way or another, and all of whom fought hard for their causes, all of whom threw hard oratorical punches, but who did not sink to personal rancor or insult the intentions of their opponents — whom they assumed to be serious men seriously engaged with serious matters, at least as an initial presumption.

In closing, I will say that the truth or falsity of Catholicism or Christianity or Islam or religion generally is NOT what I particularly want to discuss in this forum — though I have decided and I daresay well-founded views on these questions. My fellow ChicagoBoyz have their own divergent opinions and I don’t want to use this blog as a soapbox for my views on these issues, which are very serious ones, where their views may differ to a major degree. We have enough to talk about on this blog where we either agree, or might have a shared interest, or where we will have grounds for constructive disagreement. But if someone insults me or my religion, I may choose to respond, depending on what I deem appropriate under the specific circumstances.

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