a good discussion

I had a lovely time over the weekend at the family reunion. Children, kittens, relatives I hadn't seen in an age, smores, campfire pass-the-guitar-around time, and sleeping in tents. Win!

This'll be an unusually busy week for me, with actual errands to run and possibly more relatives coming into the state to visit. So for today at least, in lieu of my own content, I'm'a post links to a really good discussion between Ryk, an atheist, and Tracy Wagman, a Christian. Their talks are a model of a most excellent way for believers and unbelievers to have a useful discussion with one another.

Here is the original post at Tracy's blog. The conversation starts in the comments. (I only read Ryk's and Tracy's comments to one another, and even so there are a lot of them!)
A response/partial repost over at Ryk's blog.
A further post at Tracy's blog.

Key issues include the capacity to suspend disbelief and/or invest faith, the theodicy, and the relative validity of varying beliefs which each require faith.

Hope you enjoy as much as I did!


Anonymous said...

As Geds said on his blog, Bible verses are not substantive for a debate involving non-Christians. I'm also offended by Tracy's assertion that you can decide to believe in a god of your choosing, and somehow psychologically force yourself into making the belief genuine. That's oogy to me. As of now, I've read only the original posts and the comments. I can say these are both honest and earnest people, but I'm not sure either of them are trying especially hard to make progress in the 'discussion' at large... but they are exposing the root of why there is no discussion. More on that after I read the response posts...

Commenter Barnstormer, on Rik's blog, says: "[I] see little reason to have to suspend unbelief for the sake of faith. It doesn't seem to have any practical use for me, and in a way I'll know that I am taking part in a sort of self-deceit... If it became rational to believe in a god(for example, empirical evidence made itself available), then I would have no trouble conceding the god exists." And commenter Dave could not agree more.

The last post on Tracy's blog is much the same. It was amicable, and it makes me think that every such discussion should begin with "You're going to hell!" "I don't care.". Such was the case with pre-deconversion Geds and myself, which is why we were able to remain friends. But it doesn't advance very far. The issue of belief might be what is truly important about what they were saying. Having never converted or deconverted myself, it is so easy for me to assume that belief is either innate or it isn't; that it's not something you can give yourself or take away. I hope that isn't true, because it turns millions on each side into bold-faced liars.

The whole thing was a little too creepy for me, though. When a text is your source in what appears to be a debate about the validity of said text, I'm sorry to say, you're doin' it wrong.

atimetorend said...

I find myself largely in agreement with commenter Anonymous above. What is remarkable about the conversation is that both people persist with gracious discussion when their viewpoints are so opposite. Not only are the viewpoints opposite, but one commenter (Tracy) is pushing the other to accept her view very hard.

I thought it was impressive that Ryk would be willing to try to believe, what seemed impossible for him to believe. I didn't like that after that Tracy stated to "keep trying" to believe, and to try even harder. He tried already, and it seems like a very one-sided conversation at that point. You try to believe harder, while I refuse to consider disbelief. Maybe that's because it's her blog, but that dynamic mirrors my own interactions with Christians to a large degree, and I don't see how it can be real friendship unless either there is a live-and-let-live attitude, or a dynamic of mutual challenge of sorts.

All in all though, it is a unique discussion in many ways, thanks for link to the interesting read.

Fiat Lex said...

Thanks to Dave and a time to rend for your comments!

It's unfortunate that this conversation shows, among other things, how even where there is an attitude of mutual respect on both sides, the perceptual gulf between belief and unbelief is so very wide that there's going to be some tension. And yes, as both of you picked up, the central issue is belief, not any of the sidetracks on which people so often get lost, like the origin of life or the theodicy.

It's given me some food for thought, regarding different individuals' capacity for belief, or at least the suspension of disbelief necessary to invest faith in an invisible entity. I myself was actually a Christian for many years. So unlike a lot of atheists I've encountered live or online, I have no trouble wrapping my brain around the leap of faith itself.

Still, I hope we can get some good comments from some Christian folks and see what their perspective is! I'm sure there will still be things that are worrisome or indeed oogy, but they will be different things.

Tracy Wagman said...

I am very sorry to hear that you think the converstion between Ryk and myself was onesided and that I pushed the issue of faith.

I care about Ryk. I am passionate about my faith and perhaps that's what you are sensing.

It's indeed a live and let live friendship. I really want Ryk to live forever. I can't give up on him. We have already agreed to disagree respectfully on nearly everything we speak about.

Obviously we still choose to speak and we are not personally offended toward one another.


Fiat Lex said...


I hear where you're coming from, and I think your willingness to actually listen and consider Ryk's views made the conversation not one-sided. It's a thing that, if people aren't being careful and thoughtful, I've seen turn into unpleasantness, or at least into powerful emotions.

There was a conversation I had with my big sister, when we'd actually started talking about religion vs. unbelief. It was a long while after I deconverted and a little while after she'd reaffirmed her faith. Her point was something like "but you're my sister and I love you, and just having to live with the thought that you won't live forever, and we won't be together in heaven after we die, is just horrible." Which is about the nicest way there is of framing the hell argument. Makes me want to make a post about hell (where there is burning) versus outer darkness (where there is weeping, gnashing of teeth, and regret). Scripture makes a distinction of which it seems to me Ryk isn't aware.

As to what atimetorend said:
"You try to believe harder, while I refuse to consider disbelief."
I think this is a cogent point, but one that I want to come at from a sightly different angle.

With Tracy and Ryk, we have a believer who used to be an unbeliever, and an unbeliever who's never believed. Sometimes the conversation will involve an unbeliever who used to believer, and a believer who's never stopped believing.

Either way, in some conversations (not this one, and kudos again!) you see one or both parties totally invalidating the other's experience. Someone will say, "Well, yes, I used to feel as you do, so I know exactly where you've gone wrong, and I'm not willing to perform the mental exercise of trying to put myself in your shoes and empathize." Here, you, Tracy, put in a good-faith effort to try and empathize in just that way. Ryk went a step beyond mere mental exercise, because he found he couldn't imagine what it felt like to believe, and wanted to be able to empathize. You didn't take that next step of trying to set belief to the left and confront reality without it, in large part because you'd lived most of your first two decades as an unbeliever, and so had those memories as a point of reference.

However, not every believer has that point of reference. Just as a lot of unbelievers don't have the kind of memories that I do, of believing and having it work--or seem to work--the way one is told it's supposed to. So I'm willing to bet, atimetorend, that you've had a few conversations in which the believer did not make the good-faith effort of trying to understand where you were coming from on a personal level.

Fiat Lex said...

Just to clarify. The powerful emotions in the conversation with my sister were appropriate to the context; they were not due to a lack of care and thoughtfulness. We have all this backstory between us, y'see.

Tracy Wagman said...

Fiat Lex,
What happened between you and Jesus? Why did you turn away?

Fiat Lex said...

You know, I don't think anybody has ever asked me that question before. Whether because they had zero interest in the answer, figured they already knew it, or wanted to let me frame it in my own terms, who knows. I hope you don't mind, but I feel the desire to respond in the form of a post.

atimetorend said...

"So I'm willing to bet, atimetorend, that you've had a few conversations in which the believer did not make the good-faith effort of trying to understand where you were coming from on a personal level."

Good call Fiat as to analyzing the responses by looking at where people are coming from.

Yes, I have had conversations like that, though there is a bit more to it. It's that I don't *expect* people of faith to try to consider what it is like to live without that faith. I don't see it as my place to do so. That is probably because I once had those beliefs myself, so I do understand where they are coming from. I don't want to have to force myself to believe something that I don't believe, and I don't want people of faith to have to do the same thing. I see that as mutual respect.

And there is another danger there, and perhaps it is something not a factor in Tracey and Ryk's conversation. It is one thing to try to do as Ryk did -- to try to imagine believing, or try to make oneself believe something. That is an important part of being open minded and trying to understand other people. It is like empathy for someone suffering; we try to put ourselves in their shoes to understand better. In order to understand someone with faith we try to put on their shoes so to speak. Or to consider the validity of Christianity, we try to put ourselves in the shoes of believing it. The problem with that, if you take it to the next step of trying even harder and harder to make yourself believe it after you initially don't, is that you are working to erase the line of discernment between brainwashing ourselves and exercising our minds. If in order to try hard to believe the bible is all true, I read nothing but the bible, listen to worship music only in my car, read only Christian authors, it may work, but it may have nothing to do with the validity of the message I am believing. And that's my personal experience, as for years I was taught to do those things to overcome doubt, and for years I did, with varying measures of success. Having "trust like a child" does help us to believe, but again, it does not ensure that what we are believing is true.

Anonymous said...

A time to rend-

Great comment. I think I should direct to you Accidental Historian, who had a post that hit upon exactly what you're saying here. I don't know how to do the link, but it's at http://accidental-historian.blogspot.com/2009/07/on-ugliness.html .

I said in the comments, much like you did here, that living without acknowledging the parts of reality that aren't nice and shiny and Jesus yay, can have some bad effects.

atimetorend said...

Thanks for the link Anonymous, I actually read that post before, I'll have to look it over again. I found my way to this blog through that site.