How to Talk About Your Religious Beliefs

I found the article below to be a good read:

How to Talk About Your Religious Beliefs (Without Being a Jerk)

This seems to have been written by an agnostic at ‘best’ (depends where you’re standing) – but nevertheless, he makes a very good point (about not being right no matter what stance you take), and it’s one that’s never lost on me when I talk about these sorts of things.

For those who aren’t familiar with the posts on my perspective section, you know that the purpose of my posts are to shed light on why I think the way I do. I guess in context of the linked article, it would be “my story” – and the posts are more to explain why my reasoning is the way it is – so that people who don’t agree with me, at least understand why I’ve arrived at my conclusions. And I think when you at least have that (proper context) any debate, argument, turns into a proper and meaningful dialogue where I get to learn about others as much as they learn about me.

For the most part, I have no issue if a person approaches an argument through the lens of faith. But they shouldn’t be surprised if I consider their angle to have lesser weight than a practical, scientific, or secularist argument. That’s not to say that arguing through faith automatically makes anyone wrong – it just means that you really have bring more to the table if you want to make a really convincing argument. To over-simplify, saying “because God said so”, to me, is a weak argument.

To be fair, the truth is ANY perspective/argument is rarely entirely correct. Which is to say that even if you argued secularly, or scientifically, you simply cannot claim full accuracy and unassailability – because there’s always something to nitpick, or an experience that seems to be an exception, etc.

However, here’s the key difference that is simple and true: that given two contrasting perspectives that are equally incomplete, the one with a basis that can be confirmed will (and should) always have more merit IMHO.

For example, if you’re arguing the validity of Sharia law based on doctrine – when you can easily (and statistically) confirm its practical effects on societies, 1 which is mostly oppressive unless you purposefully violate some tenets here and there it should be very obvious which is the more “reasonable” stance to take.

If you think that example is too one-sided, then how about the argument of pro-life: If a person used doctrine (ten commandments) vs a woman who chose to have an abortion because she’s poor and has already got 7 kids and got pregnant despite using contraception… my consideration/sympathy will always be on the latter – even if I agree with the former. Because of the simple fact that the latter’s context/decision was based on circumstance that CAN easily be confirmed – rather than just following some “mandate” with an origin (invisible man who lives in the sky) that ultimatley CANNOT.

That’s not to say that I disagree with the former, in fact, I prefer pro-life because it truly is the “ideal” – but I would only support if our society has progressed into an affluent one – where the practical implications of having children are no longer a concern (since everyone can afford it)

The trouble with arguing based on faith is that while it is arguably the “nobler” route to take, it almost always makes for a faulty(ier) argument. Because even the exceptions cannot be grounded on a proper foundation that’s solely in the realm of religion/spirituality.

Take homosexuality for example. Modern society pretty much accepts it – which is a good thing. But make no mistake, the scripture (Leviticus) does seem to imply in no vague language that it is (was?) a sin. So the question is: how do the “faithful” reconcile this – how did making an exception for homosexuality come about? Why are people claiming that they could still be good Christians (or even claim to be better Christians by going against scripture)?

So normally we’d start by shifting the issue to a broader topic: the “purpose” of Religion as a whole – that if a faith truly advocated inclusion, acceptance, etc. then it does stand to reason that the words in Leviticus couldn’t possibly be right. It’s sensible argument, so let’s go with that.

So if it’s all about inclusion, acceptance, love, etc. – that means practically ANY lifestyle (regardless if the scripture denotes it as “sinful”) can be accepted right? Because any good Christian will still accept you as you are.

Sure… until we have to consider serial killers, pathological liars, corrupt officials, etc. into the mix. Obviously, we haven’t found the “right” argument to make a proper exception – no problem – let’s move on… and we eventually arrive at the fact that sexual orientation doesn’t harm anyone.

Great – sounds good, let’s use that instead. The primary crux here now is if the “issue” is capable of inflicting harm. And let’s be generous and include harm of any sort (physical, emotional, mental). It certainly works well with most of the commandments and deadly sins. Honoring your parents, check. Not killing, check. Not having affairs, sure, etc, etc. looks like we’re on the right track.

But what about gluttony or sloth? Why are these two deadly sins as they are? In fact, lets throw lust, envy and pride in there as well – what’s so bad about having these traits if you’re not hurting anyone with it? It’s not like lust automatically leads to rape, or that envy automatically leads to robbery, or that pride automatically leads to hurting others. Gluttony doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve stolen from the poor – and how much more harmless can you get with sloth, right?

You see how convoluted it can get? And notice that we still eventually needed to approach things practically – the only unassailable logic that works for both religious and non-religious people is the golden rule, and the reason it works is not because it was rooted in religion – as the concept (if you can even call it that) far predates religion or philosophy.

The ethic of reciprocity is a practical truth that anyone, from any period time, will always arrive at (with or without religion) for as long as they are dealing with other human beings – and that, whether you like to admit or not, is really more of a secular approach to relationships.

So going back to the issue of faith and exceptions (particularly homosexuality), It would be very difficult for a person of faith to convince me that any progressive stance they’re taking (especially if it’s a stance that their church currently does NOT condone) was because of their faith – I would assert that secularism (or secularism’s influence on their faith) did that.

When a person says they are staunch believers and favor faith over secularism – and if they really meant it, they cannot be supportive of homosexuality on a fundamental level, likewise they cannot be pro-choice on a fundamental level. It has nothing to do whether the Bible is right or wrong. I simply mean that to decide on faith alone, you basically decide on church tenets which are ultimately based on scripture – and the scripture doesn’t mince words from what I’ve read. So there’s really no reason, based on faith alone, to consider homosexuality as “ok”. Remember, the scripture doesn’t explain why certain “sins” are as they are. It says homosexuality is bad just as killing is bad, just as envy is bad, just as… you get the picture.

So any “(re)interpretation” of it (which is always based on social anthropology), is basically reasoning on a secular level – which is a good thing – but it doesn’t change the fact that based on the reasoning I’ve just presented, that given two similarly incomplete viewpoints (in this case secular vs religion), then the secular approach clearly has a better foundation (reality) in which its arguments are grounded on.

And once you make that fact clear, then you’ll see how easier it is to deconstruct religious claims 2 Because the vertical will ALWAYS contradict the horizontal vs secular ones 3 No need to invoke the vertical in the first place.. And that, for me, makes me take secular reasoning more seriously over religious – especailly if those issues are affecting public policy.


1 which is mostly oppressive unless you purposefully violate some tenets here and there
2 Because the vertical will ALWAYS contradict the horizontal
3 No need to invoke the vertical in the first place.

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