Author Topic: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?  (Read 3336 times)

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Offline John Albert

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #60 on: March 22, 2019, 03:35:42 PM »
I think the title given to this thread is not a fair representation of the claims that I and others have made.

Arthwollipot has said:

         
in my experience there is very often an issue, particularly where religion is concerned, where an attack on the ideology is perceived as a personal attack on the self. Religion can be so much a part of a person's self-image and identity that it isn't as easy to "love the faithful, hate the faith" as people think it should be.


Then The Latinist took it a step further, and said:

         
it is not reasonable to expect a religious person not to feel personally attacked when you attack something so fundamental to their sense of self as their religion.

To criticize their beliefs is to criticize them personally, as surely as would be criticizing another person's race or sexual identity.

My argument is against the claim that criticizing beliefs, especially deeply held religious ones, is separable from criticism of the individual who holds those beliefs.

you should not pretend that doing so is not a personal attack on the holders of those beliefs; it necessarily is.

So as you can see, it's not really a strawman after all.
« Last Edit: March 22, 2019, 07:12:21 PM by John Albert »

Offline John Albert

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #61 on: March 22, 2019, 03:59:59 PM »
Caveat: I haven't the time to read the whole thread since TL raised this point, so I'm weighing in without all the context.

"Why: The Dangerous Question" was a conference track I did many times. Why is dangerous because it is a combination of how and who, even though we use it as if it means 'how' in many cases. This makes 'why' threatening in ways that 'how' is not, because it subtly raises questions of identity. If I ask an executive 'How did your project run $2 million over budget?' we can have a conversation about the factors that played into that situation. If I ask that executive 'Why did your project run $2 million over budget?' the implied 'who decided to' in the question feels like I'm questioning their judgement and ability to do their job. We're not going to be having a productive conversation after that.

I certainly agree that a lot of emotional baggage may be riding on how one phrases one's judgment.

Whether it's objectively directed at a given individual or individuals, or whether it's intended to besmirch or wound, that largely depends on the wording of the criticism. "Christianity is unreasonable and immoral" is not the same as saying, "Christians are unreasonable and immoral," let alone something like, "Ken Ham's beliefs are unreasonable and immoral," or even, "Ken Ham is unreasonable and immoral." And many shades of blame can be implied or inferred through even more subtle differences in wording.

But just because somebody feels that a statement is a personal attack, that does not make it objectively so.


That example is just scratching the surface of the reactions you get when you question someone's identity in more direct ways. As The Latinist has noted, questions about a truely held belief are experienced as questions and judgements about who you are to believe such a thing. It may be possible to separate the person from the belief. It's a lot harder to do when you are the person who holds the belief.

I think it also depends on the depth of one's feelings of righteousness about the beliefs, versus their willingness to admit they might be wrong or mistaken.

Either way, criticizing an ideology or practice is not necessarily synonymous with a personal attack on its adherents. Some of them might receive such criticism as if it were a personal attack, but that does not mean it actually is directed at them personally.


Yes, I know you disagree, John Albert. I'm not about to bang my head against your brick wall again.

That's a nice compliment about the solidity of my reasoning on this subject. Before reaching my current position, I have indeed spent several decades of my life considering the truthfulness and social implications of these kinds of questions from both sides.

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #62 on: March 22, 2019, 04:31:00 PM »
My two cents: I recognize that some religious people (not all by a long shot, maybe just a very vocal minority) perceive an attack on their religion as an attack upon themselves. This should never become an argument against denouncing religion. Maybe it calls for some sensitivity when talking to such people, but religion is the most pernicious influence in society, and humanity will never be at peace with itself until we dig it out at the roots. If the fundamentalists feel my criticisms of their religion is a personal attack on them, that's their problem. You would not ban criticism of the anti-vax movement just because anti-vaxxers feel it's an attack on them.

Most religious people, in my opinion, are not bad people. They are deluded by a cruel fantasy, and living in that fantasy are easier to manipulate into cruelty.
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Offline brilligtove

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #63 on: March 22, 2019, 05:04:01 PM »
I'm pressed for time today, so I'm going to focus on one point that I think is essential to the disagreement I have with your position, John.

But just because somebody feels that a statement is a personal attack, that does not make it objectively so.

What I'm claiming is that it is a characteristic of human nature that any and all challenges to a person's values are what you're describing as 'personal attacks'. There is no objective truth in this situation because all value judgements are intrinsically subjective on all sides. There is certainly a discussion to be had about intent, charity, self reflection, resilience, and more. Under all that is the reality that anything that challenges your sense of self is going to be provocative. With education, training, and practice it is possible to drastically alter your own relationship to those challenges. That's something that many skeptics spend their lives working on.
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Offline John Albert

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #64 on: March 22, 2019, 06:58:10 PM »
What I'm claiming is that it is a characteristic of human nature that any and all challenges to a person's values are what you're describing as 'personal attacks'.

I don't think it's human nature. I think that's a hasty generalization, because all people do not react the same way to having their values challenged.

If you're claiming it's "human nature," then let's see some evidence for it.


There is no objective truth in this situation because all value judgements are intrinsically subjective on all sides.

How do you get the idea that all value judgments are intrinsically subjective? Objective value judgments certainly exist as well. 


For example, to say "1+1≠3 is incorrect" is an objective value judgment about the mathematical solution "1+1≠3."

Moreover, "1+1≠3 is incorrect" is not a criticism or an attack on any random student who may have written "1+1=3" as the answer to a math test. It's simply an objective statement of fact. 


Likewise, if I say: "The story of Adam and Eve is not literally true."

That is a statement of fact about a particular literary work. It is objectively not a personal attack on any random creationist who claims offense.

We know that it's objectively not a personal attack, because the subject of the sentence is "The story of Adam and Eve," and not any particular individual who espouses creationist theology.

On the other hand, if I said "Ken Ham is a stupid creationist," that is objectively a personal attack on Ken Ham. Everybody can tell it's personal, because I called Ken Ham out by name as the subject of the sentence.

Do you see how it can be linguistically objective? Whether or not it's personal doesn't come down to just one person's feelings on the matter.


There is certainly a discussion to be had about intent, charity, self reflection, resilience, and more.

Indeed, that is the whole point of this thread.


Under all that is the reality that anything that challenges your sense of self is going to be provocative.

Many people find such challenges provocative. But some people are so indoctrinated or arrogant in their beliefs that they may not even find it provocative in the least, and just disregard it without a care.

But whatever kinds of reactions those challenges provoke will differ from individual to individual. That's why I say you can't put it down to "human nature."


With education, training, and practice it is possible to drastically alter your own relationship to those challenges. That's something that many skeptics spend their lives working on.

Yep, and that's the whole point of the skeptical movement: to foster critical thinking, scientific skepticism, and humanist values in all aspects of life.

Part of that process is coming to the realization that how we may feel about a particular subject does not necessarily constitute reality.
« Last Edit: March 25, 2019, 01:59:15 AM by John Albert »

Offline Bill K

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #65 on: March 23, 2019, 03:11:45 PM »
Interesting conversation, I think. I'll just watch how it / if it continues.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2019, 03:54:13 PM by Bill K »
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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #66 on: March 23, 2019, 09:29:29 PM »
Interesting conversation, I think. I'll just watch how it / if it continues.

IMO it's kinda sad that this kind of discussion is even necessary. Haven't we gotten longer along the road than this? But now that things are what they are, I'll also observe the discussion with interest. :)
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Offline Noisy Rhysling

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #67 on: March 24, 2019, 11:14:44 AM »
Admirable, but in my experience there is very often an issue, particularly where religion is concerned, where an attack on the ideology is perceived as a personal attack on the self.

It's true that religious people often perceive challenges to their religion as personal attacks on themselves, but that's just another problem (or rather a feature) of religion itself.

And the same holds true for other forms of woo. For example, some self-professed psychics wrap their supernatural beliefs into their self-identity a similar way. Many of them truly believe they have an ability which is beneficial to others, consider it fair to receive payment for their services, and regard skepticism as a personal attack.

Does this mean we should refrain from criticizing these fraudulent and harmful beliefs?
 

Religion can be so much a part of a person's self-image and identity that it isn't as easy to "love the faithful, hate the faith" as people think it should be.

Other ideologies besides religion also form a major part of their believers' self-image and identity. Here in the US, some Republicans hold their political party as sacrosanct and even conflate those politics with their religion. Are Republicans therefore unlovable?  Does this mean we should refrain from denouncing the GOP for fear of hurt feelings?

To take it to the furthest extent, racist ideologies are especially tied into the believer's self-identity. Does that mean the same argument must apply to racists? What about racist religions like white Christian Identity and the black Nation of Yahweh?

Are we supposed to accept race-identity hate groups as valid cultural practices? Where do you draw the line?
I have seen believers take other ridiculous positions in order to avoid facing hard questions. (Like, "do you have any proof for a god or gods?")
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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #68 on: March 24, 2019, 11:51:11 AM »
Religion can be so much a part of a person's self-image and identity that it isn't as easy to "love the faithful, hate the faith" as people think it should be.

Other ideologies besides religion also form a major part of their believers' self-image and identity. Here in the US, some Republicans hold their political party as sacrosanct and even conflate those politics with their religion. Are Republicans therefore unlovable?  Does this mean we should refrain from denouncing the GOP for fear of hurt feelings?

To take it to the furthest extent, racist ideologies are especially tied into the believer's self-identity. Does that mean the same argument must apply to racists? What about racist religions like white Christian Identity and the black Nation of Yahweh?

Are we supposed to accept race-identity hate groups as valid cultural practices? Where do you draw the line?

You are exactly right. Religion is a subset of ideology, and any ideology, religious or otherwise, can become part of a person's self-identity. This is old news. I don't see why religion should receive special treatment.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #69 on: March 24, 2019, 02:05:14 PM »
Dawkins has been drumming up islamophobic anxiety for decades now, and is responsible for being a gateway to racist extremism for white men. I'd say what I think of him, but the language would probably get me a warning. Blood is on his hands. We'd all do well to stop idolizing this hateful old creep.

I might be wrong here, but I think that if Dawkins is not a member of this forum (and I assume he is not), you can say whatever you want about him, as long as it does not contain threats or encouragement of illegal activities.

But please correct me if I misunderstand the rules.
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Offline John Albert

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #70 on: March 24, 2019, 07:21:21 PM »
Dawkins has been drumming up islamophobic anxiety for decades now, and is responsible for being a gateway to racist extremism for white men. I'd say what I think of him, but the language would probably get me a warning. Blood is on his hands. We'd all do well to stop idolizing this hateful old creep.

I might be wrong here, but I think that if Dawkins is not a member of this forum (and I assume he is not), you can say whatever you want about him, as long as it does not contain threats or encouragement of illegal activities.

But please correct me if I misunderstand the rules.

I totally get why some people don't like Dawkins.

That unfortunate public dust-up with Rebecca Watson left both of them looking bad, especially for two people who each profess to be levelheaded skeptics. But as the elder figure with the genteel upbringing, I'd have expected Dawkins to show a little class and concede that Rebecca raised some quite reasonable arguments.

But instead he's harbored a rather puerile grudge against the fourth-wave feminists, gone on to say some really tone-deaf things, and come out looking like a cad. That's garnered him some accolades from the reactionary "neckbeards" of the skeptics movement, which he doesn't seem too uncomfortable about accepting.

But at the same time, I don't understand this level of vitriol. To accuse him of having "blood on his hands" is a bit beyond the pale.

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #71 on: March 24, 2019, 08:22:03 PM »
Religion is a subset of ideology, and any ideology, religious or otherwise, can become part of a person's self-identity. This is old news. I don't see why religion should receive special treatment.

Religion is in a class by itself because unlike other ideologies, which typically deal with what they think people ought to do, or how societies or governments should be organized, religion insists that palpable bullshit is divinely-revealed truth. The argument seems to be that if your belief is demonstrable bullshit, then it's unacceptable for anybody to call you on it.

If I say that I own the Brooklyn Bridge and I offer to sell it to you, I've committed a crime and can be put in jail. But if I say that a magic man in the sky has authorized me to grant or deny passage to Paradise after you die, and I offer to sell that to you, not only can I not be charged with a crime, but you will be excoriated for intolerance if you tell me to my face that I am a liar and a cheat and a charlatan.

It's precisely because religion is bullshit that it gets special treatment among all the other sorts of ideologies. I say that all priests and rabbis and mullahas and lamas and all the rest of them should be called what they are: liars and cheats and charlatans who belong in jail for fraud.
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Offline Eternally Learning

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #72 on: March 24, 2019, 08:54:43 PM »
I haven't bothered to read through this whole thread so can someone just please raise their hand if they feel we shouldn't criticize religion or even the religious?  I'm getting a strong vibe that most people who are disagreeing here don't actually disagree on anything substantial.  May or may not have been why I skipped over the massive walls of text.

Online arthwollipot

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #73 on: March 24, 2019, 10:53:39 PM »
Yeah, 'cause I really want to have this conversation again.  ::)
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Offline Eternally Learning

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Re: Does Criticism of Religion Amount to an Attack on the Faithful?
« Reply #74 on: March 24, 2019, 11:16:57 PM »
I feel you, I can't even bring myself to read most of it. I just suspect no one here actually believes that we shouldn't criticize religions or even religious people, as a rule, and since the whole thread seemed to be about that, I just wanted a quick check to see if I even want to bother to weigh in. Also, looked like a lot of this conversation remained in the other thread so it was a little hard to follow.

Suffice it to say though, if someone here actually thinks religion and the religious are out of bounds, then I have some things to say. If not, then I'll just go back to my baseline assumption that this thread is a frustrating mess, in which case I have no desire to rehash anything.