On Being Charitable (And when to call a Troll a Troll)

In a discussion I'm having with a theist elsewhere, I stated that when it comes to the Great Debate we usually take people at their word about what they say they believe.

This can extend to other areas of belief as well. Generally, I feel people believe what they believe to be true, whether or not those beliefs can be easily confirmed or not. Being charitable isn't about whether their beliefs are ultimately true, but whether we accept that they genuinely believe what they say they do.

As such, I said:
"Usually, we take people at their word about what they purport to believe since it is charitable to do so."

In response to my statement a theist, who continually engages me over at my other blog, came back with this doozie of a response:
"If we have to take everyone at their word, then why are you an Atheist? After all, plenty of people have said they have personally experienced God in various ways and forms, and if we have to take people at thier word, then we also have to accept that God exists since he is interacting with people.

If you disagree and say this is somehow all in their heads, then you aren’t taking them at their word, which is rude.

So, God exists and your Atheist argument is wrong."

I think you can spot his mistaken reasoning. Believing someone believes something is clearly not the same as believing exactly as they believe. 

But in the attempt to be charitable, I will admit that he's likely just trying to make a point. Assuming his point is that believing someone is the same as believing what they believe, which it's certainly not, I decided to elucidate by relaying to him that 

We take people at their word about what they purport to believe with respect to some belief proposition or another. We don’t necessarily take their word about *what* the nature of reality really is according to *whatever* it is they purport to believe.

See, what you’re doing is saying what a person says is an absolute truth about the nature of reality — so if we believe them about what they purport to believe then we must also believe their reality as well. This is just plainly, demonstrably wrong.

But to answer your accusation: No, and no I don’t. I typically will take people at their word that they believe God exists. That’s just called being polite.

Now, I won't go out of my way belittle anyone who is genuinely giving it their honest best. Over the years I've found that I learn a lot from discussing with others what it is they believe. Even if we agree to disagree, there's still a lot about the individual we can learn.

That said, this is not one of those times, I'm afraid. You can't very well learn anything new if the person you're debating simply repeats the same points over and over again, like a broken record.

Frankly, I have way more important things to do than satisfy the egos of those who don't care to hear the opinions of those they disagree with yet insists on bothering them to get a rise out of them. That's just trolling.

So being charitable can only go so far.

After all, patience isn't unlimited, as is my time. Giving people the benefit of the doubt ends when they choose to abuse your patience by talking in a roundabout fashion, keep coming back to previous topics you left behind long ago, and dismiss your rebuttal of their accusations of you because they'd rather be right than concede even an inch -- even if that implies they must pretend to know more than you about your own beliefs.

All of which my interlocutor did. Repeatedly. And, eventually, you have to call a troll a troll, hit the block button, and move on.

Now, I don't like censoring people. I believe everyone has the right to express their opinion. But I do prefer to only listen to educated opinions over inane blather. Yet, then again, who wouldn't?

The point is, if someone is making an effort, and showing that they want to learn and want to be part of the discussion, in the spirit of being charitable, I'll engage with them. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they truly do want to get to the bottom of certain questions that are pressing upon their conscience, and I'll be happy to answer any questions they might have.

The moment they begin to abuse their privileges, however, that charity ends. I have better things to do than argue the same old argument again and again, ad nauseam.


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