Thursday, 6 June 2013

Why Having Religious Friends as an Atheist is Awesome

Standard Atheist/Theist Discussion.

David Hume was not a fan of the ol' faithful.

His controversial stance on religion led him to be very nearly charged with infidelity by the Church of Scotland, and he was a vocal opponent of anything that he deemed to be overly 'clerical' in society. He ripped the Argument from Design into very small chunks with his posthumous Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and his views led him to be denied a career as an academic, forcing him to make a living as an essayist.

Yet Hume was also a very amicable fellow. His friendly nature and disposition led to him being nicknamed “la bonne David” by his friends in France, many of whom were in fact priests and other religious figures. Where he saw views and issues he was willing to make his argument heard and call out what he disapproved of, but he could also maintain friendships with those who held differing opinions from himself despite this.

Now, Hume was likely not an atheist: philosopher Stewart Sutherland places him on the scale of belief as a sceptic and possible agnostic. But that doesn't mean that we atheistic types cannot learn a thing or two from his stance towards theistic friends and acquaintances. The ability to denounce what we see as wrong or dangerous yet also maintain our candour is something I do feel is lost sometimes on modern atheists: there does seem to be a bit too much of “you're stupid, your opinions are stupid and I don't talk to stupid people” going around, rather than the more amenable “your stance on that issue is pretty fucking stupid I've got to say, and here's why I think so. But hey, how 'bout them Lakers?”

Talking religion with atheist friends when you yourself are an atheist tends to just turn into an echo-chamber; of course no-one's going to disagree or put forth an alternative, you're all on the same wave-length. Introduce a friend who's of a religious persuasion, however, and now you've got yourself a discussion on the go. Nobody learns anything by nodding along and agreeing with each other: we learn through debate, through rational discourse and discussion. You're probably not going to sway many hearts and minds, but it will teach you how to better express your viewpoints, and it could well teach you a thing or two about what you truly think as well.

Being able to defend your ideas under fire really focuses your mind on what those ideas are.

I'm not saying go out and get chummy with a Pentecostal or a Young-Earther (not unless you like a challenge, or rigorous debates with brick walls), but most religious folks aren't of the extremist persuasion: they're just regular people like the rest of humanity who hold beliefs contrary to your own. Misguided beliefs in your mind, sure. Hell, maybe even stupid beliefs. Just remember that you could be wrong, and that they probably think the same of you. Nobody wants an echo-chamber, at the end of the day. Echo-chambers are dull as shit, unless you know a really good ventriloquist.

Having friends you can properly debate against, though? They're worth having.