Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Time to refocus?

I've made a number of statements in the past concerning my opinion of theology, describing it variously as "wild speculation", "a cloudy, indistinct field of contemplation that isn't susceptible to rational discussion", "piffle" and "lies, damned lies, and theology". I've expressed my exasperation with certain kinds of believers. I've engaged with believers online, in the knowledge that I'm unlikely to sway their beliefs. I've even critiqued an entire book of apologetics, at length. What has all this achieved?

My initial reasons for engaging were set out some time ago, and were based on two questions:
  1. How come so many people claim to believe patently crazy stuff?
  2. What can we do to mitigate the influence of crazy beliefs on everyday life?
The first is of academic interest, and something that I'd like to resolve at some stage (I have a few ideas), but it doesn't directly impact me or mine (except those of mine who actively subscribe to such views). So there's no pressing need for me to pursue it, other than curiosity.

The second is of paramount importance. Where crazy beliefs inform actions they can have seriously detrimental effect on many aspects of life. Practices and policies derived from unsubstantiated dogma need to be challenged where they conflict with rationally desired outcomes. And though their derivation from dogma may be obvious, substantiation based on evidence is the only acceptable justification.

Pursuing No. 1 above can become tiresome. For example, I've reached my nonsense-tolerance limit as far as presuppositional apologetics is concerned, and I'll no longer engage with it in any but the most cursory way. PA is a minority belief within the broader theistic morass (indeed it appears to be an undesirable bedfellow to much of that morass) so ignoring it will be of little consequence. There are other aspects of the theistic morass that I will still address, but from now on only in the context of real world consequences.

I am resolved to shift my emphasis not just for the sake of my sanity but as a result of concerns surfacing during the past year and coming to a head right now. Any nominally vocal atheist today will be aware of the threatened schism within the "atheist movement" — with one group attempting to rebrand itself as Atheism Plus. How successful this will be remains unclear, but I support the impetus to take atheism beyond the dictionary definition in order to achieve progress in particular areas of concern.

Skepticule co-host Paul Baird, in a post entitled "The Looking Glass War between Theists and Atheists", points out that among all the arguments, debates etc., there isn't actually much difference between those on opposite sides of the divide:
It does seem to me that there is a thin line between atheism and theism and that it's wrong to make any sweeping judgements based on whether one believes in a god compared to whether one does not. There are smart atheists, there are smart theists, there are theists with mental health problems and there are atheists with mental health problems too. It's as though it's the subject that attracts them all. It's like trainspotting with gods. We're all standing at the end of the same platform with our notebooks.
Which makes me wonder what on earth we are doing there. His final paragraph sums up the practical implications of it all, providing some perspective:
I just don't have the level of of enthusiasm to do the debates, exchanges of views or the research to participate in areas outside of the immediate impact of English Social Christianity on English Public Policy as it immediately affects my life and the lives of those close to me.
In a comment to the Facebook syndication of the post, Professor Paul Braterman makes an implicit, practical suggestion:
Some of my best friends are Christians. I long since decided that debating the existence of God is not a fruitful exercise, and that whatever harm may come from such belief should be the subject of criticism in its own right.
An excellent strategy, and one I will endeavour to follow from now on.
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