One should not attack the religious notions of unsophisticated people, for this shows poor taste. One should not attack the religious notions of sophisticated people, for this betrays misunderstanding. Does this mean one should never attack religion at all?


7 comments on “Atheism

  1. Richard says:

    What about attacking the unsophisticated religious views of sophisticated people? Is that OK?

  2. Skef says:

    Probably best to limit oneself to attacks of abjectly immoral religious notions. One must pick one’s battles.

  3. jacob says:

    I say attack religion at will. What do you think?

  4. joe says:

    Why turn it into a formula in the first place? Should one do x or not? This way of considering it is all too simple and full of blind spots. When one challenges the religious notions of anyone, simple or intelligent, there is more to consider than just their degree of intelligence. Let’s start by considering that.

  5. skholiast says:

    One should not attack the sophistications of the irreligious, for this shows betrayal. One should not attack the unsophistications of the religious, for this betrays showing. But in a pinch, err on the side of attacking sophistication. It is shorter-lived.

  6. joe says:

    There seems to be a common thread among our comments. All of them express themselves on ethical grounds, but I think the original thought expresses itself from epistemic grounds first and foremost.

    I am even tempted to claim that the flavor of this division between unsophistication and sophistication as applied to religious understanding in general tastes like the ‘separate sphere’ principle.

    thus attacking an unsophisticated person is, at best, asking for a change in the way one uses language, e.g from the religious tradition to a secular, perhaps positive one; and I take it, you find that to be an untenable behavior, especially when one feels justified in attempting to influence another because their way is “the right way, the only way, and the correct way.”

    Attacking a sophisticated person, on the other hand, presupposes what is begun but never finished when one attacks the unsophisticated person. Though one might change the mind of a less powerful reasoner (though a less powerful reasoner is more likely to depend on his/her feeling before giving up his/her position), this is not the issue. The issue becomes a deeper question: on what grounds does is my grounds superior to the other’s? If indeed it is, is it on pragmatic grounds? Positive grounds? ….

    • poseidonian says:

      Since this was an epigram, I didn’t have too definite a sense of where I wanted people to take it. But I can elaborate on the thoughts that led to it. First, I think religious beliefs are far less determinate than the most unsympathetic secularists think, and that it is far harder to cogently critique them until there is some mutual understanding about what is meant, and typically one can’t get that far. One can say to the sophisticated religious person “I don’t really know what you mean by that, and I suspect but cannot prove that you don’t either, but I can imagine things you might mean that I would endorse or at least tolerate, and things I wouldn’t, so I guess we’ll have to leave it at that. I don’t find this kind of talk helpful, personally.” That’s what I tend to say when I say anything at all, which is almost never. The unsophisticated religious person is doing what everyone does, namely, accepting as true what those around them have said (this is the basis for my belief that Alaska exists, for example), but in an environment which is less “advantaged” than the secularist (assuming that that is the reason why the secularist rejects that kind of talk–there are others: political, psychoanalytic, etc.). It seems inappropriate to attack someone for having been raised a certain way, and it raises questions as to why one would feel the need to do that, which is an ethical question, but a derivative one. So yes, my thoughts were mostly about epistemics, but with a side-glance at ethical concerns. Though I don’t agree with everything Spinoza says on religion, I agree with this part of it: where religion is concerned, one should judge people by the quality of their conduct. If they say things that strike one as peculiar when they misbehave, the real issue is the misbehavior. If they say peculiar things while behaving appropriately, then what difference does it make what their “poetics” are? I think that the same ethical point extends to performance as scientists, historians, etc. If they fail to live up to the relevant cognitive norms, well, that is grounds enough for criticism. In general, I’m very suspicious of certain standard Enlightenment responses to religion, not because I want to engage in any special pleading for religion, but because I think the ploys are often unjust, self-deceived, and self-aggrandizing. Captain Malcolm’s response (“You’re welcome on my boat”) seems the more humane and intelligent one, assuming that one shares his metaphysics.

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