More On Dealing With Believers – Accommodation VS Confrontation

I got a comment today on my post, Dealing With Believers – Accommodation VS Confrontation,  from Rob, the person that my friend Maria is debating.  He brings up some good points about my post which I want to address here.

“Respect for the individual is the key with dealing with most believers.”

Key to what?  Dealing how?  Doesn’t it depend what you’re trying to achieve in the first place?

I think there might be a mistake somewhere in here, which is that ‘respect’ is somehow a binary thing.  It’s not.  I respect some people for their conviction and intelligence while at the same time not respecting them for their racism, sexism etc.  I respect what I percieve as the good qualities in people and disrespect what I have decided are the bad qualities.

Considering the religious, I don’t respect credulity as a position or the credulous as adopters of that position. I don’t respect senior officials in churches who enable and excuse child abuse.  I don’t respect people who make assertions for no good reason.

When I talk about respect for the individual, I mean respect for their right to say and believe as they choose. I don’t mean that we have to respect their ideas, thoughts or actions, but we do need to respect their rights to free expression and belief and express to them our respect of those rights.

In his book, When Prophecy Fails, Leon Festinger, says:

…through the mocking and scoffing of nonbelievers there is usually established a heavy commitment on the part of believers. …the jeering of nonbelievers simply makes it far more difficult for the adherents to withdraw from the movement and admit that they were wrong.

If we merely mock or make light of a believer’s beliefs, without also expressing our respect for their right to hold those beliefs, no matter how absurd they may be, then we will most likely drive them deeper into their belief.  If we can let them know that we value their right to their beliefs and to express them, then we at least have a chance of meaningful discussion.  Otherwise, we might as well be taking to a brick wall and it becomes a waste of our time and energy to bother talking to them anymore.

I agree with Rob that respect is not binary and I never meant to infer that.  The only thing we need to respect in our dealings with anyone, including believers, is respect for their rights to hold and express their beliefs.  Other than that, we shouldn’t feel bound to hold back on criticizing their beliefs.  The caveat here, as Rob pointed out, is that it depends what you’re trying to achieve in the first place.  That and the willingness of the person you are engaged in discussion with to accept or at least discuss, your criticisms.   As Maria has often said to me, and others, each situation and discussion is different and you need to gauge your response accordingly.

The really important thing to understand is that we need to make sure that whoever we are dealing with knows that we respect their right to their beliefs and their right to express those beliefs, no matter how irrational they may be.

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One thought on “More On Dealing With Believers – Accommodation VS Confrontation

  1. > When I talk about respect for the
    > individual, I mean respect for their right
    > to say and believe as they choose. I don’t
    > mean that we have to respect their ideas,
    > thoughts or actions, but we do need to
    > respect their rights to free expression
    > and belief and express to them our respect
    > of those rights.

    Agreed and I’m not aware of any new atheists or aggressive skeptics who think otherwise.

    > If we merely mock or make light of a
    > believer’s beliefs, without also
    > expressing our respect for their right to
    > hold those beliefs, no matter how absurd
    > they may be, then we will most likely
    > drive them deeper into their belief.

    Really? I’ve seen no convincing evidence yet that this is true, but supposing it is and to once again boringly trot out my argument, this isn’t the *only* goal anyway. We do other things than try to convert believers and ridicule might be a good tool to help us achieve those various goals.

    But of course I’m not advocating *merely* mocking beliefs. That’s just one tool and to use it effectively is to use it with as much sensitivity as utility, I suspect.

    > The really important thing to understand
    > is that we need to make sure that whoever
    > we are dealing with knows that we respect
    > their right to their beliefs and their
    > right to express those beliefs, no matter
    > how irrational they may be.

    Well sure. But do you personally ever have to be reminded of this? I suspect you assume it from the word go and don’t usually think about it. Who would? Well, people who want to tell others what to believe: the religious, in other words.

    I don’t care at all what random people happen to believe. But if they’re wrong, I’ll tell them they’re wrong.

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