Questioning Someone’s Faith: Poor Taste, Or Critical In Today’s World?

Challenging FaithIt’s an excellent practice to question ideas or proposed certainties, and not to adopt them into your own beliefs without sufficient evidence.  Although everyone has their own standard of what fits ‘sufficient evidence’, based on their education and level of natural skepticism, this is a generally accepted principle in society.

Not Your Average Dinner Conversation

If someone at a dinner party asserts that they saw and spoke to an alien from Jupiter, the present company will either instantly dismiss the claim, or probe with endless questioning, but it would be unlikely anyone be would be left satisfied.  If the alien were gracious enough to have left you with some token of proof of its existence then that too would need to undergo intense scrutiny before your story would meet with any acceptance.

The absurd example serves to illustrate that the more grandiose the claim, the more evidence is required to support its validity.  If, at the same dinner party, you mentioned that you found twenty dollars on the street, but made no mention of the visitor from Jupiter, it’s most likely the claim would not be met without much opposition.

Choose Your Words Wisely In The Presence Of A Wine Connoisseur, Lest You Offend

People tend to become defensive and feel personally attacked when their beliefs come under scrutiny.  This operates on a certain scale.    At this dinner party challenges over which bottle of red is the better might make for light banter and an enjoyable argument.  It’s certainly possible that someone at the table might be so into red wine as to take offense and storm off if they are pressed too hard about their wine preference, but it’s unlikely in comparison to say, questioning their faith.

All Of Us Are Wrong About Something, No One’s Beliefs Encompass The Full Truth Of Our Nature Or Of The Universe.  But If You Have A ‘Stupid’ Belief, That In No Way Infers That You Are ‘Stupid’.  It’s Possible That You Are Though, But That’s Neither Here Nor There On This Topic

There’s a fine line between inferring someone holds a stupid belief, and asserting that they themselves are stupid.  I use the word stupid because often that’s the internalization of the person whose beliefs are being challenged.  You might not use any such derogatory language, but by the mere inference that what they believe in is not based on sufficient evidence, and is most likely false, may be perceived by that person as an attack on the very core of their identity.

You Are Not The Sum Total Of Your Beliefs.  You’re Free To Change Them And You Will Lose Nothing Of Your Identity That Is Truly You

Our sense of self, our identity, or ego, is founded on a mountain of beliefs.  Some people’s beliefs are rooted deeper than others, and the firmer the belief is rooted, the more defensive or even outraged the person is likely to become if they feel their beliefs are being made a mockery of.  Again, on the scale of beliefs, it could range from the benign – what’s your favorite color – to the divine, what’s your religion.  It’s here, when questions clash against someone’s faith that strife is most likely to occur.

Tread Wisely When Challenging Someone’s Faith, They May Take It As An Attack On Their Identity, And Conversations Generally Devolve From That Point

Is it wrong then to question or challenge someone’s faith?  I think it’s a dangerous thing to keep faith beyond the realm of open discussion.  There is a tact, or courtesy involved though, if you actually wish to be effective in demonstrating why your own ideas, beliefs or lack thereof, are more coherent in terms of what we know about the Universe from science, rather than from scripture or faith passed down by indoctrination from parents or a religious institution.  If a person, or society does not seek to impose religious values or doctrine into the society at large, and the person’s beliefs do not cause them to harm or infringe on another’s rights, then you’d be a jerk to hit them over the head with a logic stick until they have a concussion.

Can Politicians Restrain Their Moral Code and Dogma From Entering Into Their Policy Decisions?  Can A Young Earth Creationist Effectively Teach Evolution And The Scientific Consensus Of Our Universe’s, And Our World’s Scale Of Time?

People, no matter what they claim, cannot separate their deeply ingrained beliefs about the nature of the world and morality from their actions.  Our thoughts and emotions arise from our beliefs, and our actions stem from our thoughts and emotions.  A perfect example of this is the state of affairs in US politics.  Topics like gay rights, abortion, and stem cell research, serve as a few strong examples of discussions that should have long ago been resolved, but they still serve as distractions, keeping us from coming together to insist, as a united people, some semblance of an honest government not beholden to their corporate backers.

There’s More Important Stuff To Tackle In This World ThanWhich Interpretation Of Which Scripture Is the Word Of God

There are more important issues, poverty, crime, and education to name a few, that get neglected because of these social issues many social conservatives insist are paramount, and the politicians who represent them never hesitate to stir them up, to keep them focused on their faith being in danger while they strips away our constitutional rights and perpetuate wars throughout the world.   When there was a drought in Texas Governor Rick Perry asked people to pray for rain.  That’s a nice sentiment, but direct action utilizing scientific and engineering resources to ensure adequate water supply is the safer bet.

Every Dogma Comes With Its Baggage And Dubious Claims, So Don’t Go Discriminating Against One Faith; That Would Be A Jerk Thing To Do

I do not wish to single out any one religion.  In Islam there is the problem with the concept of martyrdom and Jihad, and in Israel the situation between the Jews and Palestinians, believing firmly that god intended for those lands to be ordained to them, has caused endless misery with no positive outcome in sight.  If a positive outcome does occur, it would be hard to imagine it stemming from religion, but instead reason, empathy and basic traits of humanism are likely to be the driving forces.

There’s A Right Time To Challenge One’s Beliefs Or Faith, And Then There’s All That Other Time To Just Enjoy Their Company

For me, if I’m hanging out with someone and they mention they like to go to Church every Sunday, I’m probably not inclined to do anything but nod, and if I feel like it ask them about the experience.  Though if that same person asserted that the world was 6,000-10,000 years old, or that creationism was more probable than evolution… well, we’d have a conversation on our hands.  I would challenge the beliefs that stem from their faith.  By focusing on the arguments, and having enough knowledge and ability to articulate it, you may actually give the person something to think about.  It’s wrong to say that there’s no point in arguing with someone about their faith – or another topic they are particularly driven to believe.  Rare is the occasion that person will in real time admit that their lifelong held beliefs are wrong, but the seed of doubt, or the seed of a new question, can be planted with a meaningful conversation.

Comedy Is a Universal Language, And It’s Funny.  Funny Is Good.

The below short video clip is, for my tastes, one of the best uses of comedy within the context of a debate between an atheist – Sam Harris, though he does not particularly like the label, versus Rabbi David Wolpe.

I used that clip because comedy can be a great way to speak to the core of someone’s root beliefs without offending them, and thus having a chance to make an impact on their worldview.

Question Your Own Beliefs And Presumptions First, And Don’t Trash Talk, Debate In The Spirit Of A Positive Exchange.  Sometimes It Works

I believe it’s important that there is nothing beyond the bounds of questioning and conversation.  Remember, you might feel self gratified to perceive yourself as intellectually beating up on someone for their beliefs, but you’ll be far more effective at creating a more open minded, productive conversation by straying from ad hominem attacks against the person’s character, and focusing instead on debating the merits of where their beliefs stem from, and their validity when matched against science.

I’ll admit though, if you come upon an opponent happy to match you argument for argument – say if you meet William Lane Craig in the street – you may need to come prepared.  Not because he’s particularly brilliant, but he’s quite crafty, in a convoluted fashion, in a debate.  Perhaps I’ll write about that later.  But for now, enjoy the video below that inspired this article’s graphic.

2 thoughts on “Questioning Someone’s Faith: Poor Taste, Or Critical In Today’s World?”

  1. Thanks Cassidy, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It’s certainly wrong to condemn another person for having a belief – condemn being a far stronger implication than to disagree, or to try and challenge the belief in as amicable a fashion as possible – unless they acted upon a certain belief that wrought devastation to others – in which case, we might want to more closely examine that belief, or how that belief – if not innately evil – was perversely shaped by the person to manifest in whatever actions unfolded thereafter.

  2. beautifully written, and a pleasure to read! I think if everyone followed this, not just in conversations about faith, or the lack of, the world would be a much better place to live in…

    hold your opinions, believe your beliefs, and don’t condemn other people for having different ones…

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