The Right to Believe. The Right to Refute.

A few weeks ago I was invited onto Premier Christian Radio to share my views about careers for young people. Someone commented afterwards to me how they couldn’t understand how I could do this given the fact I consider myself agnostic. I paused on this for a moment. Should the fact I don’t share the same beliefs as someone stop me from speaking to people albeit on a faith based media channel? Is it just Christians who listen to Premier? What about when I speak in schools with a strong faith ethos, would they be denied my help because I no longer subscribe to those former beliefs? Should I refrain from banter on social media with those whose beliefs I don’t share?

The Right to Believe
Whilst I no longer subscribe to any particular religious school of thought this does not stop me from socialising or visiting such places of worship. I am happy to sit in a church, mosque, synagogue or temple, observing without having to take part mentally or otherwise in their worship. I am happy to talk life with imams, rabbis, priests and gurus. Indeed a few weeks back I went to a spiritual retreat at the Brahma Kumaris centre in North West London and it was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. Ever. I have no intention of joining said organisation but some of the reflections on meditation and the fraternal peace I felt being there, served a need. It helped me think about my role as a man in society. Yet I am not going to sign up for any membership.

Last year I spoke at a youth conference for Christians. It was a tough gig as I was on the cusp of ‘coming out’ about my lack of faith. However I took the opportunity and shared the stage with a number of people equally passionate about youth work as I was. It was one of my favourite speaking gigs and even though some were a tad aggrieved because of my declaration some times afterward, was the message of helping young people to be whole and able members of society lost because I no longer define as Christian? I hope that people wouldn’t see it that way.

Just because I don’t share the raison d’être of a believer doesn’t mean that I want to be stopped from observing and respecting what drives someone of faith. I don’t get it when people think that a lack of club membership should mean you can’t be engaged in observation. Does my lack of a season ticket mean that I cannot enjoy watching Liverpool play on the screen? I digress.

I believe that there is a right for all people to believe what they want. From religious adherence to UFO invasions. If such a belief gives you purpose. If such a belief aligns with building community. If such a belief enables you to be a fair and considerate citizen then I have no truck with however crazy to others such a belief may seem.

However when those beliefs cause harm, or make me think, WTF, I also believe I have a right to refute.

The Right to Refute
I follow Ricky Gervais on Twitter. I think he is funny. Sometimes he can come over obnoxious but in the main I love his dry wit and the fact he is outspoken, online and offline. Oscars anyone? He is also a very vocal atheist which I find intriguing especially for those who follow him and take umbrage with his approach to Christianity and other world religions. He is relentless.

As someone who no longer follows a religion I am forever intrigued by both his statements where he questions the notion of a higher power but also to the varied responses and attempted put downs he get’s from people on his timeline. Quite recently he made the following statements

Now whilst I am not atheist, I really can concur with his sentiments.
If I believe your thinking or reasoning around a belief to be contentious, or something that makes me go “seriously, you believe that?” or even “you are bat shit crazy son!”, then what is to stop me from asking the question on it?

Whereas once I used to think to leave well alone and don’t disturb the peace I don’t think that way anymore. Why should individuals not have the right to voice their opinion without another thinking they are bashing their religion? Why for example can people, either here or any where in the world, not be able to question sacred tenets of Islam without fear or reprisal or worse death? Why can one not truly question creation, a virgin birth or the doctrine of original sin without feeling marginalised? Surely if you can knock on my door to share your faith, preach discord from a soap box in Hyde Park or preach the end of the world whilst I exit a station then I should equally be able to be evangelical in disagreement?

If a religion or belief system is about peace, order, wholesome living, community building or whatever then why are so many scared to raise objections to it?

Now it could be well argued, and rightly so, that often it is those on the extreme elements of major religions that promulgate these weirder notions. However I think it goes a lot deeper than that. At the heart of all almost all major world religions, theistic or otherwise, are some strong cultural biases, racial superiority complexes, misogyny, hetero normative sexual prejudices and models of subservience.

Whether you like it or not, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, as examples of the world largest religions, promote male dominance and female inferiority. No matter how progressive liberals wish to change the context the foundation is very clear. All religions have advocated crusades and dominance in the name of their God. They have all advocated slavery or indentured servitude. Even the ten commandments has it smack bang in the middle of the largest commandment on Sabbath rest. They all in many ways preach that the self is no good and inferior without divine intervention. I find such a core set of beliefs, no matter how presented, problematic.

In this vein I believe I have every right(?) to refute them. Respectfully.

Respect
For me respectful dialogue is the way forward. As a communicator I know how to be provocative in raising questions and I believe my posts testify to this. I speak my truth not as some kind of universal truth that all need to adhere to. The key for me is in respecting the person. I don’t have to respect what you believe in. I may be intrigued but I don’t have to respect it. You are entitled to your opinion as well as I am too mine.

If one feels that my lack of faith is a one way ticket to a burning hell then they are entitled to it. I just think that is if this part of a love story between humanity and the divine it is somewhat warped. I have no problem with someone believing in all powerful divine body guiding humanity. I struggle where such an all powerful and all loving body allowing infanticide, genocide and world disasters just as some kind of play in some celestial chess game. I have no problem with people believing they are racially superior. Actually tell a lie. I do.

I am more than happy to argue my rebuttals to why I think such views run counter to my own thinking and will do so. Rather than see it as bashing a belief I think it should be an opportunity to engage in some healthy debate as to how and why we see things differently. We are never going to agree on everything. In fact it’s very possible that we may disagree on most things. And that’s OK.

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7 thoughts on “The Right to Believe. The Right to Refute.

  1. Not all Atheists are Antitheists.

    We needs more thoughtful, respectful non-believers like you.

  2. Thanks, Dave. There are a few areas where we broadly agree:

    (a) You’re not required to withhold your insights about youth or careers just because some of your audience members are different from you. Premier approached you, not the other way around, but even if you’d approached them, Christians need solid consultants too and you can work with whoever you wish.

    (b) UK- and US-influenced societies usually promote the freedom to believe (aka freedom of conscience). It’s not an unlimited freedom but it’s a significant one. Another common feature: the assumption that through agonistic debate, the clash of ideas, truth can emerge or be clarified/verified.

    The evangelical tradition (lower-case “evangelical”: the drive to hone means of persuasion, criticism, and argument, and to publish and promote one’s ideas in order to secure the ideas’ spread, influence, and dominance over alternatives/error) has thrived here. Our governments sell this model to other cultures too: electoral democracy and agonistic debate = package deal. Given this context, I agree that you have every right to be evangelical. The pool is open, so to speak.

    (c) I share with you a preference for mutual respect and still work for it in spaces where I’m not respected myself. I live my preference and enjoy the life it brings me.

    We have an old disagreement about whether the sole essence of Christianity is imperialism, ethnocentrism, sexism, or classism. I’m a strong advocate of multivalence, not only re. religion but also re. political and other complex social systems. The concept stood out to me during my doctoral research on the British executive branch’s 2002-2003 case for the Second Gulf War, and we may have to chat about its implications over tea and scones: I’m cool tabling that aspect of our discussion because you mentioned it here but it wasn’t your main point.

    To your main point: this morning I saw a quote via the School of Life: “Taste may change, but inclination never.” —Francois de La Rochefoucauld

    I resonate with that quote. In a society that promotes evangelicalism at every educational level and through most social institutions, evangelicalism should become the native mode for most people regardless of their active philosophy. Casually observing converts and deconverts over the last decade, I’ve noticed that evangelical Christians tend to become evangelical atheists and view agnostics with suspicion. Liberal, non-evangelical atheists or agnostics tend to become liberal, non-evangelical religionists. It seems much, much rarer for a liberal atheist to become a fundamentalist Catholic or Fundamentalist Protestant (it does happen occasionally and the convert becomes a superstar for a while). But mostly, I see people retaining their baseline core values, and approach to knowledge-making, authority, and persusasion of others regardless of their religious or other philosophical affiliations.

    What have you noticed about this given your personal history, and how do you think your history affects the stance you’ve taken on being evangelical in response to evangelical believers?

  3. “If a religion or belief system is about peace, order, wholesome living, community building or whatever then why are so many scared to raise objections to it?”

    Best quote of the article…

    This article was a joy to read and I wish I could’ve stated these feelings as eloquently as you did. I feel exactly the same way. Why is it that people who believe differently than main stream religions are bombarded by people who practice these faiths? Religion to me is a way a certain group of people make sense of the world. We all have different perceptions of reality and just because my perception my be different than the majority, should I be ashamed of that? Of course not!! Was it Socrates who said ” A life not examined is not worth living.”? I should be able to ask questions and hold a microscope to a belief and not be attacked by the masses because they feel differently. I will never knock anyone’s religion by any means. But I will question, in hopes of a better understanding of one’s faith whether I participate or not. Thank you for this article. Well written and explained.

  4. Good article Dave. Been meaning to read for a while.

    Your transition is a surprise and I love the way you eloquently explain some of your views.

    Do you mind if I ask if you still believe in / maintain your own relationship with Jesus?

  5. I no longer believe in the concept of God as portrayed by the Bible or any of the other monotheistic religions.
    I see Jesus now as a dude who was radical in his beliefs and had some good stuff. I don’t however dismiss the idea of the possibility of a higher power, I just don’t focus on it.

  6. Good article Dave. Been meaning to read for a while.

    Your transition is a surprise and I love the way you eloquently explain some of your views.

    Do you mind if I ask if you still believe in / maintain your own relationship with Jesus?

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