Thursday, June 9, 2011

Our Beliefs Are Not the Default

From a very young age, I knew that the study of foreign language was for me. One of my favorite things to do was to check cassette tapes in Spanish out of the library and drive my family crazy trying to learn words and phrases. However, no matter how much I learned about the language, I always thought of English as my first language. Everything else, as far as I was concerned, had just been translated over. I distinctly remember thinking to myself "I'm really lucky to live somewhere where they speak the original language!".

Of course, my perception was completely wrong in that case and I soon learned that, while english may have been MY default language, it certainly wasn't everyone else's. It was far from being the "original" anything. In fact, the more I studied linguistics, the more I realized that if I wanted to learn a foreign language with any degree of proficiency, I would actually have to ignore my natural tendency towards English and teach myself to think in that foreign language.

How is this story relevant? In short, beliefs are often the same way, though we rarely think of them as such.

In his famous novel "The Brothers Karamazov", Dostoevsky insinuates that the non-religious among us are such because they want to rebel. In one of the courtroom scenes near the end, Ivan, the atheist brother, shouts "what son does not secretly wish to kill his father?" using the theme of patricide as an analogy for man's relationship with God. Even now, there are a good number of theists who will assert that atheists only claim not to believe in God. They secretly know that God is real. They just choose to deny Him. In the same vein, we all remember the "you know it's a myth" billboard that caused such a hullabaloo around Christmastime.

The simple truth is that no, not everyone secretly knows that you're right. In fact, no matter how strongly you believe something or how many people agree with you, there is no guarantee that you ARE right. In the case of religious belief, there is no denying that, in the end, what you believe is a matter of faith. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, pagans and countless other sects all claim to have witnessed miracles, received divine knowledge and have thought their beliefs through logically. All of them believe, to varying degrees, that their beliefs are true. Many of these beliefs contradict each other. It's impossible that all of them are right. But as matt Dillahunty often says "they could all be wrong".

Along these lines, it is also fallacious for an atheist to assume that a theist knows that their beliefs are "all bullshit". While "atheism" is not in and of itself a belief and thus, has no burden of proof, it is unfair of us to assume that deep down, everybody thinks like us. In a world where most people claim belief in the supernatural, we also have a responsibility to think, reason and listen to the beliefs of others, though we may not agree.

I remember, in my own religious days, listening to atheists and thinking "if only they knew what I believed, they would turn to God. They've only heard extremists, they don't know any of the good arguments." Then I actually began speaking with nontheists and discovered, to my shock, that not only had they HEARD my arguments, but they understood them completely. I learned then that it is possible for someone to understand our points of view entirely and still not hold to them.

This is why I attempt humility. Every person I get to know, be they liberal or conservative, atheist or theist, has taught me something. Though I often try to convince, I also want to hear what everyone else has to say. Maybe I'm wrong on certain things. Maybe not. Either way, I acknowledge the fact that I am not omniscient, nor are my values universal. This doesn't make me weak or a fence sitter. It makes me honest and a free thinker.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please be civil. :)