Sunday, July 20, 2014

Do theological divisions stick in your craw?

Over at the Interpath Conversations group on Facebook, a forum member had a question to ask about the attitude of Richard Dawkins toward believers:
This video was shot in 2007, at around the 55:30 mark he begins a comment in which he ends up saying that it "sticks in his craw" to work with "decent moderate religious people." But in more recent years, I've heard him talk quite happily about working with progressive/liberal religious people and even called them something-like his "comrades in arms against ignorance."  
Earlier in the same comment he talks about belief in a supernatural creator being incompatible with science. But I know that many (if not most!) liberal/progressive religious people are not "supernatural theists" but rather 'pan-en-theists', even if they're unfamiliar with the term. 
So, my question is, does it still stick in his craw? Or, is he now more okay with working with liberal/progressive religious folk who aren't supernatural theists? I'm merely trying to understand his point of view, not looking for an argument. Thanks!
That's a pretty fair question! I thought it deserved to be brought outside of the silo of Facebook and added to the ongoing workings-out here of topics in belief, nonbelief, and interaction across those questions that divide us.

My answer to the forum member was as follows:
Thinking about his books and public comments, I would say that what sticks in Dawkins' craw is not working with such people (the 'softcore theists', we might say), but with the idea that persons committed to making society more welcoming of scientific/skeptical ways of looking at the world should be allying with persons committed to making the work more welcoming of supernaturalistic belief.  
That is to say, it is the organizational "working with" which is problematic -- which leads to issues of conflict over incompatible commitments -- rather than interpersonal "working with."  
You've likely heard the reasoning that by helping to normalize supernaturalistic belief of the sort that Dawkins finds unwarranted, moderate or liberal believers help to create safe conditions in society where more radical or dangerous strains of belief can find an entrance point and eventually flourish. This, too, is an organizational (or societal) dynamic, and not an interpersonal one.  
Compare this attitude to, say, Sam Harris' recommendation that nonbelievers be conversationally intolerant of supernaturalistic belief, when we encounter it in our personal lives. Now, Dawkins may well be impatient with the believers in his personal life; but as I understand it, his public and written comments along the lines of this "sticks in my craw" remark aren't expressions of interpersonal animosity.
Or did I get it backwards? Is Dawkins in his personal life someone who finds theists backward or foolish? Does he go out of his way to avoid dealing with them? On the other hand, does he see the value in forging organizational alliances with theistic groups who are working toward a shared goal? You know what, I don't think it matters, not in the case of Dawkins specifically.

What matters is that we recognize this as a fair question, and an important one. If you're a believer/nonbeliever, how do you feel about interacting with nonbelievers/believers? Do these feelings get in the way of opportunities to work together? Does working together mean we are compromising our principled commitment to endorsing and proliferating a worldview?

There's a conversation we need to have about how to work with people you think are wrong in some aspect of their thinking. It would have to touch on issues of humility, cooperativeness, conviction, civility, and good will. It might even be a conversation to have with folks at a young age, since as part of your interpersonal, social skill too;-kit the ability to work alongside and in productive cooperation with people you think are wrong is indispensable. So add this topic to the syllabus for secular Sunday School. 

No comments:

Post a Comment