Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thinking Hurts My Head!


I promised myself that when I started blogging again, I'd write less polemics against religion and write more on my personal beliefs and how I came to them, what they mean to me, and/or how they play a role in my daily life.

This is probably one of the "and/or" moments.


Over the past week I have been involved in a couple of serious dialogs with religious people. As the exchanges went back and forth, I kept noticing something peculiar--with me. Each time they'd write a paragraph, I'd write three. Every time they'd write two paragraphs, I'd write six or seven in response.

I was trying to be concise! But my responses kept growing and growing.

Why was this? I asked myself.


Honestly, I didn't know why I was having this problem. I usually strive for pragmatic simplicity--elegant, functioning, reasons and straight forward, crystal clear, explanations. So what went wrong?

I went back an re-read a lot of the exchanges. Then I realized something. I was trying to explain my objections succinctly, but before I could offer a proper rebuttal, I was working through their reasoning to show them where I thought it failed them. After all, I can't claim someone's wrong if their reasoning appears to be sound, and their points seem true, so I had to first explain why I didn't think this.

Ultimately, my simple responses flared up into a series of mini-rebuttals tackling each point independently. And right when I felt confident my argument was air tight, they'd change the subject, and I'd have a whole new string of arguments to address.

Now, this is just a personal quirk I have. I often am confident in my beliefs, because I take lots and lots of time to consider all the pros and cons, look at it from every angle, and think of possible objections I might have overlooked whenever I formulate or settle into a belief. But at the same time, I am more than happy to change it in a flash if there is compelling evidence and reason for doing so.

What this means is that I often think about the thoughts I am thinking about. If it sounds tiring, believe me, it is.

So what was happening when I was trying to respond to these people's comments? Well, I was trying to think about their points, then think how their points were likely to be mistaken, then think about my points, and whether or not they were right or wrong within the context of their points, and then lay it all out.

This is why serious discourse is so time consuming. I don't want to make off the cuff remarks. I want to make real, tangible, points. I want my arguments to serve a practical purpose in revealing a fault or elucidating a point. I want my rebuttals to be accurate, and not just arguing because I disagree. I want my reasons for disagreement to be understood.

This is important to me. Probably because misunderstanding always leads down the slippery slope of distrust. I want to build bridges of trust, where even even we disagree with one another, at the end of the day, our reasons will be clear.


The problem, as I see it, is that when it comes to God, and talking about God, most people check their reason at the door. So often the conversation boils down to professions of faith, or anecdotal stories and appeals to emotion, and none of this involves proper reasoning!

My family members often avoid religious conversations with me for this very reason. They know that it will turn into an all afternoon discussion, one in which I keep asking them "why?" until they either give up trying to find their reasons for the "why" or they will claim I am insufferable for always wanting to prove every little point.

Well, yes. I am insufferable in that way.

But I have good reasons to be. One of them is the fact that I firmly believe the truth matters. 


Our beliefs, and how we come to them, aren't at all a simple matter. Which is why I struggle to provide such in-depth analyse of every little reason as I try and trace the connections, like trying to follow the lines of a spiderweb, as they glimmer in and out of the sunlight. It's much easier to do if you can put these threads under a microscope, and that's what I try to do with my beliefs and the reasons which tie them together.

But that's just me. So no wonder my head always hurts.


Next time I'll discuss my process of analyzing a claim and testing its veracity. 

[Thinking Tip #1: The more clear and concise the better.] 

Peace!

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist