Monday, November 2, 2009

Theists -- How about just a little integrity?


I’ve recently been visiting a blog by an ex-pastor, now agnostic. He posts some good thought provoking stuff.

Recently he blogged about a friend, a believer, whose daughter joined a competing Christian denomination that has a theology she finds a bit extreme, causing a rift in their relationship. She asked the agnostic ex-pastor blogger to pray for her daughter to come to her senses and return to the fold or at least not to abandon her familial relationships in favor of this Christian “cult.” This presents an obvious dilemma to the blogger who no longer believes in a deity or prayer.

One of his readers posted this advice: "I’ve never seen any verifiable miracle answers to prayer, I would pray for her and her daughter simply because she asked me to. If she believes in prayer, then I would believe in it too for her sake. This is what friends do with or without all the theology."

I don’t know what to make of this. It seems the commenter is a self-described “Christ-Centric- Deist.” Presumably this means he holds Jesus in reverence but without imbuing him with god qualities while believing in a Creator of the universe who no longer is involved with his creations’ daily lives (Jefferson and Adams, and Franklin could be described similarly.) With an absent Creator, prayer is viewed as meaningless. But what ever his belief the statement has the unmistakable stench of religionist hypocrisy.

So let me ask: If a friend of yours practiced witchcraft that put faith in the sacrifice of a chicken, would you sacrifice a chicken on his behalf if he asked you to? And could you “believe” in its efficacy for his sake, because that is what friends do "with or without" sharing the same delusional theology?

If a friend was Pentecostal and asked you to pray over her dying child who could easily be saved by modern medicine, would you pray with her or convince her to take the child for medical help? If she refused, would you “accept her belief” or notify the authorities, even if it was painful for your friend?

How does practicing a superstitious ritual, with no scientific basis or evidence for efficacy, one that you do not imbue with credibility, genuinely benefit the person making the request? Doesn't doing that violate ones principles? Isn't it tantamount to hypocrisy / a deception? Doesn't it lend credence to / reinforce a superstition that has no validity but gives false hope of a positive result to the superstitiously afflicted?

Wouldn’t we be simply placating someone with a condescending gesture by masquerading as a like believer for their short term / immediate sense of relief and hope when we know it yields no possibility of real long term relief or resolution? Isn’t it saying: “Reality is ok for me, but you lack the ability to deal with reality; so I’ll come down to your level and pretend to make you feel better for the moment. Aren’t I magnanimous?”

Wouldn't a friend who is honest, has integrity, and is true to their own position say
"I can't deceive you and participate in a gratuitous ritual in which I hold no belief; I respect you too much for that. But I love you and will help you in real and meaningful ways."?

Religious belief is already based on an irrational lie. A real friend doesn’t heap one irrational lie on another… no matter how one tries to justify/rationalize it. Maybe this kind of deception of self and others is something theists have trained themselves to do. Frankly, I could never prostitute my intellect, integrity or honesty to legitimize a person’s feel good delusion.

24 comments:

NewEnglandBob said...

Well, this is a tough one.

Normally and nominally I would agree with you, Hump, but sometimes life gets messy.

I 100% agree with you on the situations proposed: witchcraft, dying child ( I would dial 911 immediately) etc.

But what if it is not just a friend. What if it is family? What if your own (theist) child or sibling was holding a baptism or bar mitzvah or baby naming or wedding within the church/mosque/synagogue for your grandchild or niece/nephew? Yes, you can publicly state you do not believe in the ritual, but will you refuse to participate?

Or what if it is friend you went to grade school through high school with and have talked to every week for the last 30 years?

I have been in one of those situations and it is tough to stand only on principles. Life is messy.

Dromedary Hump said...

Bob,

I've been to many religious assemblies. When they stand, I stand. When they sit I sit. It's a simple matter of respect.

I participate by keeping my mouth shut, my personal perspective to myself, by being there and being respectful during the ritual.

But, that's a far cry from what this Deist type was saying. I certainly wouldn't pretend to be a believer, not for anyone's benefit. I certainly wouldn't kneel and mumble prayers in order to salve the sensibilities of anyone or to deceive them into thinking I shared their belief.

Couldn't do it. Nor would I expect a believer to feign disbelief while in my company or company of atheists.

NewEnglandBob said...

OK, I think we see eye to eye on this. I misunderstood the conditions.

universalheretic said...

I don't buy in to encouraging the superstitious beliefs of others. It's harmful. They may be offended, but only if they are the type that expects others to jump when they say to jump, and that's their own damn fault.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Camel :-)

I wonder if you would allow me to use your Christianity in 110 words on my blog with full credit and a link back to you?

My blog is thewordofme.wordpress.com and is also an atheist blog.

Thank you,
Bill

Anonymous said...

Oooops, just one time I mean.

Sorry,
Bill @ thewordofme.wordpress.com

threenewstories said...

Can't say this makes much sense to me. I don't particularly believe in prayer, but when a believer's friend died recently I had no problem agreeing to ask god to allow them into heaven or whatever. Harmless, means something to my friend, done.

Since I eat dead chickens all the time I probably wouldn't draw the line at chicken sacrifice either, depending on how close a friend it was and how much my killing a chicken meant to them. Sure I'd draw the line at things I thought might harm someone, or something inconvenient.

Never thought of it as believing differently or pretending to believe differently. More like, not making a big deal about the fact that I think the thing they're asking me to do is pointless.

Basically, if someone going through a tough time assumes I'm a Christian (or forgets I'm not in their distress) I wait until another time to inform or remind them that I don't share their belief system.

Anonymous said...

Hump wrote this:

... posted this advice: "I’ve never seen any verifiable miracle answers to prayer, I would pray for her and her daughter simply because she asked me to. If she believes in prayer, then I would believe in it too for her sake. This is what friends do with or without all the theology."

and then Hump stated: I don’t know what to make of this.

Well I do... When I come across more progressive/moderate theist, they'll state publically that science works and their religion is mostly (or even all) metaphor, that prayer is just a "mantra" to soothe one's psychic.

However, they do tend to get irritated or even upset when someone when someone says, "Actually, that probably isn't true"?

Why?

Because they don't really think that. They only think that when anyone is watching.

For an excellent blog on this subject, check out http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/10/when-anyone-is-watching.html

- Fastthumbs

Gandolf said...

Hi Dromedary Hump i agree the ex pastor writes some thought provoking stuff.

I think part of the problem you are discussing again here, stems from not wishing to offend and trying to manage ways of still being able to stay on a friendly level with long time friends.With some friends who still are very strongminded believers.

I understand and agree with what you say about how it even could be seen to be slightly dishonest to agree to participate,when you no longer believe it.

I wouldnt be involved myself.But then maybe i have much less resting on how i react.For instance i left the faith many years ago,where as this pastor has not left that long ago.And when many of his friends find out his new disbelief,it will be a real worry and a blow for them.And im sure you understand some will even maybe really HATE it,and there is all the other issues to think of like relationships between this ex pastors wife and other christian wives etc.It could maybe turn into a real fiasco if some care isnt taken.

It probably more complicated from some people more than for some others.But like someone here said life can be messy sometimes.

Your blog is excellent by the way.

And i really enjoyed how you handled it and explained how you "knew what you know", to the blogger named Feeno.Im feel the same,but you put it to paper so much better in explanation.

Which is what led me to want to come and check out your blog.

Dromedary Hump said...

Gandolf said: "I think part of the problem you are discussing again here, stems from not wishing to offend and trying to manage ways of still being able to stay on a friendly level with long time friends.With some friends who still are very strongminded believers."

Thanks for your comments.

Let me ask you, re the above quote:
1) if you asked your christian friends to suspend belief or feign non-belief would they do that for you? If not-- Why does a non-believer have the burden of pretending to maintain a relationship, when a believer does not?

2) If you have friends who would reject you for your non-belief and your openness to discuss it (just as they are comfortable with discussing their belief openly with you)... are these really true friends?
Why does your non-belief disqualify you for their friendship; while you accept their belief and embrace their friendship inspite of their belief?

I think certain people are ashamed of their non-belief. They diminish it as some thing less than "belief", less worthy of openess, less worthy of standing behind it, less worthy of respect.

The fact is that non-belief, aceptence of reality, reason, science and natural law are due way more respect than slave like adherence to ancient myth. That some believers don't understdnad that is their problem. Catering to their problem is not an obligation, and is not doing them any favors... IMO.

Frankly, denying ones atheism/agnosticsm to retain a christian friend, would be tantamount to a homosexual denying his gayness to retain straight friends. It's indicative of the person's own failure to accept who he is. It's a dispicable act that will get no respect from me.

Hump

Seek the Truth said...

Well, I think this really stems from two things. First, as other people have said, it stems from wanting to placate the other person. However, I think the second issue is that so many people feel uncomfortable to actively disagree with a religious philosophy. Religion in this country is always treated with kid gloves, not wanting to offend or upset. As an atheist and intellectual, too often I am made to feel that my beliefs are my own, and I shouldn't bring up heretical ideas, yet I should also simultaneously sit and listen to any and all theist arguments, practice rituals, and never open my mouth otherwise. I wrote on my thoughts about that here: http://selftaughtatheist.blogspot.com/2009/10/protection-of-religion.html. In any case, I think that picking your battles is important, in that some things aren't worth fighting. But I completely agree with Hump that just because it isn't a battle worth fighting, doesn't mean you need to enlist in the opposing army.

Rachelle said...

It's official! If I ever run for public office, Hump, you'll have to be my spokesperson. LOL!

Don't worry about having to sacrifice any chickens though...I've been a vegetarian for 25 years now. LOL!

This topic reminds me of when someone says: "I saw a ghost. Do you believe me?" And the other person says: "I believe that YOU believe you saw a ghost." LOL! Personally I'd say: "No...I'm sure there's a more rational explanation." I don't appease or apologize for being an atheist. Like "Popeye" said, "I yam what I yam...I think that's in the Bible too ("I am that I am"). LOL!

I get how "going along to get along" is done my many atheists to prevent awkwardness or to make situations more comfortable, but then it should work both ways. My sister is a Jehovah's Witness...and when we lunch together, she always bows her head in prayer before she eats. I do not. She never asks me to pray over the food with her...she just does her thing. Who in the hell would I be fooling anyway if I did? LOL!

Another gem of a post, Hump. :)

Gandolf said...

Hi Dromedary Hump i wont argue with anything you have said because i already pretty much agreed with you, which is why i had stated "I wouldnt be involved myself".

Things i said were said more from the point of view of trying to better "understand" some reasons "why",not so much to try lookin for any excuses of really forgive anything.

1,I know it sucks,no a christian would never ever be likely to even be bothered making any allowances for the non faithful.

2,No its digusting really, they are often not really good friends at all.They sadly are indoctrinated zombie types.

"Why does your non-belief disqualify you for their friendship; while you accept their belief and embrace their friendship inspite of their belief?"

I agree,and i sure rip into quite a large number over it all too.But then sometimes i try to balance the ripping bit with some understanding too specially for the more liberal gentle type folk of faith.(I agree its very wrong that i need to.)

For sure non belief is overdue way very much more respect!

But bigoted faith has been the rule far to long now, and produced many thoughtless immoral selfish believers that often only think of themselves.

"Catering to their problem is not an obligation, and is not doing them any favors."

Oh and i agree!.And i feel best being totally straight up and honest about it too.

Yet sometimes i notice when i come down real heavy "all of the time",some faithful folk tend to roll up in a ball like lil hedgehogs.Or just run away and hide from you.

I try to balance and adjust the hardness of my approach a bit, depending on who im dealing with.Could be the wrong thing to do.But i`d rather see folks slowly change than just disappear.

"It's a dispicable act that will get no respect from me."

Yeah i think it really sucks too.And i sure point it out most often where ever i see it happening!.So much so that ive been exiled from my own religious family... L.o.L

I realize what you are saying though Hump and do agree.Im just saying sometimes folks have to think how to balance the hammering home bit, with taking it a little easy on some folks so they can have time to learn and adjust.

Gandy.

Dromedary Hump said...

Gandy,

I agree about adjusting ones approach and not "hammering it home" when such an approach is unwarranted and unwelcome.

But remember the original premise of the converstion : this wasn't about "proselytizing" non-belief. It was about feigning belief for some presumed greater good, or to retain friendship.

and thats where I draw the line.

anywho...good chat. thks.

Hump

Joyce said...

Drom is a good friend of mine and I am a devout believer. Knowing Drom as I do, it would be doubtful that I would ever ask him to pray. However, I would (and have) shared distresses and crisises with him and have had his support and kind words. I expected nothing less. He's a good man and a good friend.

I think (and correct me if I'm wrong, Drom) that if I were terribly upset and in a huge emotional crisis, if I inadvertently asked Drom to ''please pray'', he wouldn't reply with something like ''you know I don't believe in that stuff''. I think he'd respond by saying something like, ''I'll be thinking about you, Joyce.Keep me posted.'' That would be enough for me and I'd be grateful.

To pretend to believe or participate in something that is strongly against your personal value system (for instance, no, I wouldn't sacrifice a chicken ... unless it was for dinner) isn't the right response either. This former pastor's replies kind of baffle me.

But ... maybe there is more behind his words than he's actually saying. Only he knows.

Dromedary Hump said...

Joyce,

Thanks for that! I value our friendship very much. That you know me as well as you do, is a testament to our understanding of and respect for each other.

Yes, you are exactly correct with your assessment of how I'd respond (which is also a little creepy :)

Thanks for that thoughtful reply.
xxx
Hump

Dromedary Hump said...

Rachelle said...
"It's official! If I ever run for public office, Hump, you'll have to be my spokesperson. "

Heheh. thanks Rachelle. But if nominated I will not run. If elected, I will not serve.

Anonymous said...

Please let the person who created the Prayer poster know about the spelling/punctuation error in the caption. It makes that person look uneducated. (Specifically, "it's efficacy" should have no apostrophe.)

zarton said...

I liked newenglandbob's thoughts about how life gets sticky. When at family functions that involve a big meal (don't all of them?), I do not bow my head for the pre-feast prayer. I do, however, remain silent while those who wish to participate in delusion can. I have found this to be a comfortable compromise for myself.
The "messy" part came last year when my grandfather died. He was 96 years old and was a devout christian for about 90 or so of those years. I sat there and listened to the pastor rattle on and on about my grandfather being a sheep. Maybe he was...
The decision time for me came at the end when everyone was asked to bow their heads in prayer. Of course I was not going to pray, but I did reluctantly lower my head.
I still don't know if what I did was the right thing, or even if I would do it again given the same scenario. It was a hard choice.
When I die I just hope that those wanting consolation don't count on seeing me in a magical candyland. I hope they find consolation in knowing that I really enjoyed the hell out of my life.
Here's hoping that you all enjoy yours too.
zarton

Rachelle said...

Zarton...my grandfather died several years ago and he was a lifelong Baptist. I attended his funeral at his church and actually enjoyed how they celebrated his long life. It's still the best funeral I've ever attended. LOL!

I personally wouldn't bow my head in prayer for ANY family member (to each his own and your level of comfort)...but I figure anyone who SEES that your head isn't bowed, probably isn't praying either. LOL!

Dromedary Hump said...

" I figure anyone who SEES that your head isn't bowed, probably isn't praying either. LOL!"

Hahah...bingo!!

Angel said...

I'm not too sure about other gnostics but I certainly don't bow my head and mumble a prayer when asked to. In my mind it would be giving Yahweh far too much credit. I don't want to be lumped in with the theist wackjobs I'm surrounded by and when asked I have always explained that I simply do not believe in that deity's goodness. It shuts people up.

I don't PRAY, per say. But I do have conversations with the All whom I have far more respect for than the bratty narcissist who promised to lead His people into the land of milk and honey.

I have learned to wear my beliefs proudly in public because to be ashamed of them would mean that I feel I am doing something wrong. I don't infringe on anybody elses beliefs and I certainly don't try to evangelize.

I think that in a tough situation like death or an accident, if asked to pray for someone I would respond (and have in past occasions) in exactly the same manner as Joyce suggested Hump would. "I will certainly keep you/them in my thoughts." It is truthful and heartfelt.

And Hump, I don't think it's creepy that Joyce gets you. I think it's awesome!

Angel said...

Forgot to check that darn Follow Up box. grr.

Dromedary Hump said...

Joyce and her husband jeff are counted among my favorite theists )