Discussing religion...

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Apr 08, 2008 11:56 PM GMT
    Now that the atheism THREAD has thankfully passed beyond the veil, I was intrigued by some common social psychology that seemed to be manifest within it. Namely, almost all debates on the subject of religion that I have encountered in a group, with a few significant exceptions, have degenerated rapidly into rabble.

    The question is: why is the debate of religion so problematic in the first place? And what steps can we take to ensure that if we choose to participate in the debate that we are not misunderstood and that we do not give offence?
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    Apr 09, 2008 12:04 AM GMT
    TigerTim saidNow that the atheism has thankfully passed beyond the veil, I was intrigued by some common social psychology that seemed to be manifest within it. Namely, almost all debates on the subject of religion that I have encountered in a group, with a few significant exceptions, have degenerated rapidly into rabble.

    The question is: why is the debate of religion so problematic in the first place? And what steps can we take to ensure that if we choose to participate in the debate that we are not misunderstood and that we do not give offence?


    That's a great question....the debate is problematic because:

    1) Religion helps define who a person is. If you question their religion ( or rather, how they interpret their religion), you are forcing them to question themsleves and their security. People are loathe to do that.

    2) Religion is used to put people in categories and keep social order Shake up the categories and all hell breaks loose.

    3) Religion is used to keep people in their economic class. Religion is about money and power. Nobody want to give that up.

    It depends on where the debate happens. Forget about online. It's too easy to be misunderstood, mischaracterized.....there is no facial expressions and you can't hear the voice.

  • roadbikeRob

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    Apr 09, 2008 12:06 AM GMT
    The whole problem with discussing religion is that it is such a volatile and controversial subject. This is why any constructive discussion on this potentially explosive topic leads to bitter disagreement and offensive comments. Everyone has very strong opinions about religion just like everyone has strong opinions on political issues. This is probably why many people avoid any discussion on either religion or politics.
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    Apr 09, 2008 12:10 AM GMT
    roadbikeRob saidThe whole problem with discussing religion is that it is such a volatile and controversial subject. This is why any constructive discussion on this potentially explosive topic leads to bitter disagreement and offensive comments. Everyone has very strong opinions about religion just like everyone has strong opinions on political issues. This is probably why many people avoid any discussion on either religion or politics.


    The very people that allow themselves to get so worked up and angry are the ones you don't bother with....they are inherently missing the boat about the truth of their own religion.

    But there are people who can discuss religion. I can.
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    Apr 09, 2008 12:33 AM GMT
    My favorite line in the musical "1776" was John Adams saying "It's a revolution damnit! We're going to have to offend somebody!"
    The point being, if you're afraid of offending anyone in a discussion, why have the discussion? How can such a discussion be honest and open, or productive?

  • Squarejaw

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    Apr 09, 2008 12:34 AM GMT
    TigerTim saidNow that the atheism has thankfully passed beyond the veil...

    What do you mean? Atheism is alive and well here.
  • Squarejaw

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    Apr 09, 2008 12:35 AM GMT
    See? Even with your opening post you managed to get off on wrong foot with some of us. It's a tricky subject, all right.
  • ShawnTX

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    Apr 09, 2008 12:37 AM GMT
    I can only speak for myself and my experiences, and one thing you find with religion that it is a very personal thing, and in part, defines an individual. Because religion can be such an integral part of a person, some people cannot separate themselves from their beliefs for the sake of an intelligent conversation/debate. I also think too that many people are not able to speak of their personal beliefs without an 'I'm right, you're wrong' attitude. Having a discussion about religion doesn't mean you have to convince others that you're right and they should join your religion, but unfortunately, I find this is what most conversations about religion turn into, like they're preaching from the pulpit.

    One thing that drives me crazy is when people make sweeping generalizations, lumping all religions together as if they're all virtually the same, in this instance, just like ShamblesKissingPro has done with his three points.

    People can only draw on their own experiences when stating their opinions, so when someone has a lack of education when it comes to world religions, lots of inaccurate assumptions are stated as fact. When that occurs, an intelligent conversation becomes impossible, leading to a break down in the conversation.

    It's a hot topic, which is one of the reasons I enjoying having a discussion about religions. When people question my beliefs, I end up questioning my beliefs. And that's a good thing. One of two things can happen: by questioning and explaining my own beliefs they become more tangible and solid, or it leads me to more questions, new thoughts and ideas, which can shape my beliefs in ways I never expected. As long as the conversation remains intelligent and congenial, I'll be better off for it.

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Apr 09, 2008 12:38 AM GMT
    must it be discussed?

    it's like the one major topic to never bring up in a social environment... before politics.
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    Apr 09, 2008 12:38 AM GMT
    Squarejaw saidWhat do you mean? Atheism is alive and well here.


    I imagine he means the "atheism" thread has passed.

    Religion is taught to children at so young an age that when you challenge their religion, you are also challenging their feelings about mommy, and first rituals, and cookies in Sunday School, and all the warm runny feelings of "fellowship"...

    In other words, religion operates on people at such an inchoate level that the reactions people have to any challenge to it are almost certainly autonomic.
    And that's also why it's pointless to discuss it, really.
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    Apr 09, 2008 12:38 AM GMT
    Ceiling Cat should preemptively hijack this thread.
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    Apr 09, 2008 12:40 AM GMT
    ShawnTO saidOne thing that drives me crazy is when people make sweeping generalizations, lumping all religions together as if they're all virtually the same


    Well, there IS something they all share, to wit, belief in some unseeable, unknowable Thing. And a lot of us find that not very believable or interesting.
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    Apr 09, 2008 12:43 AM GMT
    Squarejaw said[quote][cite]TigerTim said[/cite]Now that the atheism has thankfully passed beyond the veil...

    What do you mean? Atheism is alive and well here.[/quote]

    Ahem. Mea culpa. the atheism THREAD.

    In case you hadn't guessed, I'm an atheist.
  • ShawnTX

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    Apr 09, 2008 12:47 AM GMT
    jprichva said[quote][cite]ShawnTO said[/cite]One thing that drives me crazy is when people make sweeping generalizations, lumping all religions together as if they're all virtually the same


    Well, there IS something they all share, to wit, belief in some unseeable, unknowable Thing. And a lot of us find that not very believable or interesting.[/quote]

    Yes, and having things in common is quite different than all being the same.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Apr 09, 2008 12:53 AM GMT
    yes, it is a volatile subject and many (myself included) don't have all the answers. I think because of that, it's sometimes an easy target. I also think that many are not well versed in their own faith and religion because they have relied solely on what was passed to them from parents and grandparents. I do feel that many others who do not share in a specific faith or belief, have done their homework, unlike many of us, to discount organized religion. I think that, coupled with the ongoing perception that a certain right wing vocal group represents anyone believing in organize religion (well, ok, at least Christians), leaves many of us defensive.

    Religion is a very personal thing. It's like someone calling your mother ugly...whether they can substantiate it or not, it's personal and offensive to that one person that loves her.
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    Apr 09, 2008 12:57 AM GMT
    TigerTim said
    The question is: why is the debate of religion so problematic in the first place?


    I'd say because religion is naturally a matter of personal belief. Some of us may think very little of those who put stock in belief without evidence but then again its tough to attack something that doesn't exist. We just end up looking like the assholes sometimes.

    The burden of proof rests on the theists side anyhow. They have to prove their vision of a spiritual being or god exists.

    TigerTimAnd what steps can we take to ensure that if we choose to participate in the debate that we are not misunderstood and that we do not give offence?


    1) Have a knowledge of what your talking about

    2) Know how to properly use the quote system on the forums so it's not all mass repeated garbage.

    3) Take a break and avoid the subject. Talk about hot guys and cars instead.

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    Apr 09, 2008 12:58 AM GMT
    TigerTim saidThe question is: why is the debate of religion so problematic in the first place? And what steps can we take to ensure that if we choose to participate in the debate that we are not misunderstood and that we do not give offence?
    It is basically because they are opposing viewpoints in the minds of many people. Where there are greatly diverging views, there will will be "debate". When you throw in how people are emotionally invested in their ideas then you go to a "heated debate" or basically arguing.

    The more strongly you are entrenched in your view then the more likely you will debate because your identity is wrapped up in those views. If your view is challenged then you protect your view as if it were a part of your body. It is almost like blinking when you perceive an object flying towards your face.

    For there to be no argument, you have to realize that whatever the view, you are essentially the same as the other person, that is find a common root so there is no enemy. Also we must loosen our grip on our ideas and mental constructs as our identity.
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    Apr 09, 2008 1:25 AM GMT
    NNJfitandbi saidI think that debating religion is tough because it's not an intellectual debate. At best it can be a respectful discussion, but a debate? How can it be won?

    There's really no way one can have a dispassionate discussion about religion when the tenets of religion are "obviously false" to nonbelievers and "true" to believers.

    Debating the existence of God is problematic for another reason. Most people who claim to believe have defined God in their own way, so it's tough to know what you're debating. Most of the conversions are of people who haven't thought deeply on the subject - the college student who reads La Mettrie and is "enlightened." Or the person who has a religious experience and suddenly has a renewed or different faith. People who have come to their position after much deliberation aren't likely to find the debate informative.

    It's better to debate the proper role of religion in society, how high the wall separating religion and the state should be, what the faithful should do when their clergy preach evil, why there is an apparent lack of atheist community, etc.



    You propose a shift in the way to talk about it. That would be good thing to do and a better way to address compromise and tolerance..........one can only.......pray.......maybe in the future there will be laws....but before there are laws, people have to want it, or you have to have a visionary politician who is going to hang himself/her.
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    Apr 09, 2008 2:52 AM GMT
    TigerTim saidThe question is: why is the debate of religion so problematic in the first place? And what steps can we take to ensure that if we choose to participate in the debate that we are not misunderstood and that we do not give offence?


    The implications of religious thought and discussion are far-reaching enough to place some people on the side of an argument opposite from where they always expected to be.

    I have been hostile to organized religion throughout my adult life. And justifiably so. I've insulted religionists in jest, embarrassed their minions in anger and attacked them all in self-defense, because they were so clearly and demonstrably "wrong."

    These days, however, I often find myself on the side of the religious in an argument because I find those of my ilk have a philosophical "blind spot" the size of, well infinity.

    When you have a non-believer standing with the "church folks," still not agreeing with most of their beliefs, yet suspecting they might have one crucial thing right, you know this is some serious shiit!

    I usually try to focus on the arguments being made rather than the people making the arguments. That keeps it from getting too personal.
  • DiverScience

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    Apr 09, 2008 3:00 AM GMT
    I think a lot of people have two problems with discussing religion:

    1) It's not something a lot of people consciously think about, the reasons for their belief (or unbelief). It's something that even fewer people think about in the context of discussing it with others, especially who might disagree.

    2) Not a lot of people have the vocabulary to discuss religion, theirs or others. A good working knowledge of your *own* religion is a rare thing for most, much less the religions of others. And the vocabulary to bridge the gap between different beliefs and belief and disbelief is not a natural one in the vernacular.
  • GeorgeNJ

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    Apr 09, 2008 3:37 AM GMT
    Too often, religion is intimately enmeshed with a culture, and in these cases, an attack on the religion turns into an attack on the culture. The obvious example in the current climate is re Islam: This religion is so deeply intertwined in certain cultures that going against Islam (or disagreeing with some aspect of its teaching) is tantamount to political treason or a crime against the state.

    However, it also exists in other religions. Eg, in Poland, to be Roman Catholic is to be a true Pole and a true anti-communist. I have met Polish immigrants here in NJ who fret that "the faith" will decline in Poland as democratic freedoms expand and the threat of communism subsides, and the role of the RC Ch as the leading enemy of communism becomes redundant.

    Also, in the Orthodox Christian churches: I think of the Russian Orthodox which split decades ago into the Church of Moscow, and the "Old Calendarists." The Old Calendarists (those who went back to the Julian Calendar, and renounced the Gregorian Calendar still used by Moscow) accused Moscow of being a puppet of the KGB (probably true).

    Here in our American experience, I think religion has had a powerful role in the development of this country (for both bad and good). In the 19th century, preachers used religion quite effectively: America is our Promised Land, they said, and people usually believed it. It became a way to rationalize taking land away from it's previous owners and making it their own.

    I think ShamblesKissingPro is absolutely right: religious people define themselves by their religion. I have no problem with this until arrogance, self-righteousness and smugness kick in: "My religion is better than yours! My religion is the only true one -- and don't ask me to prove it -- I just believe it." This kind of religion has the quality of an affect.

    I once heard that sarcasm is the weak person's way of fighting back. I would extend that to include shallow religious convictions.
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    Apr 09, 2008 5:43 AM GMT
    "History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it."

    - Robert A. Heinlein
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    Apr 09, 2008 6:33 AM GMT
    And if a rancorous debate results from the topic of religion is that necessarily a bad thing? At least in the context of the many, in this case negative, things that disputes about religion have spawned.

    I think though more than anything about religion, it is the idea that you ultimately have the cosmos aligned behind you. It's not just you as a person, or something person, but that your beliefs are 'right' or 'correct' on a level that transcends every day existence, that there is meaning and direction to life beyond just who you are as a person.

    ALso no one believes that what they believe is irrational -- to each person their beliefs are rational. And there are many who have thought about their religions and explored what belief means to them. Whether right or wrong in their belief I cannot say, or necessarily agree, but more than not those of firm belief that I know have thought deeply about it, and often argued with themselves nad others about that religion.

    But these sort of discussions are probably never going to be easy or without dissent, but that is probably the nature of them in that they represent people who are fundamentally different from each other.
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    Apr 09, 2008 6:57 AM GMT
    TigerTimwhy is the debate of religion so problematic in the first place? And what steps can we take to ensure that if we choose to participate in the debate that we are not misunderstood and that we do not give offence?


    I can only speak from my own experience. One thing is that religion is a very personal matter that people feel very strongly about. Even those that eschew religion are extremely passionate in their beliefs.

    Another thing to consider is that some people are uncomfortable with the subject altogether, and become offended at even the mention of religion.

    Then there's the matter of one person explaining how and what they believe to another. Even when the intent is to have an amicable discussion, it's all too easy for one person to mistake another's passion in their belief for prostelytizing.

    When you're dealing with an open forum or a large group of people, you also often run into somebody popping in with the intention of starting a flame war, and those persons will, undoubtedly, say something rude or disparaging about someone's beliefs... and you get an instant war.

    In a discussion of religion (or politics), it is important to carefully choose your words so that you remain clearly understood (though most people lack such a level of vocabulary when expressing religious beliefs), to have respect for the beliefs and opinions of others... even if you disagree or think it silly, and to avoid attacking or belittling the beliefs of the other person. Attitudes have to be checked at the door, or the whole discussion will devolve into a fight.

    For example: In a discussion of religion, if someone states what they believe, the wrong thing to do would be to follow with a comment such as "good thing I'm not superstitious"... because the first person is going to assume you're writing their beliefs off as mere superstition and they're going to get pissed. Result: Instant flame war... unless one of the two parties has the vocabulary to nip it in the bud immediately.
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    Apr 09, 2008 8:27 AM GMT
    Because Religion was designed not to be questioned. icon_twisted.gif

    Okay, sorry. LOL. Couldn't resist. Bring on the ceiling catz!