The Corner

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My Disappointment


The American founding, inspired in great part by Jewish and Christian ways of looking at conscience and the duties of creatures to their Creator (See Madison’s Remonstrance and Jefferson’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom”), added something beautiful to the European Enlightenment. As George Washington put it in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Not merely “toleration,” but mutual dignity, and mutual respect.

I remember it said last night that we Christians learned something else beyond toleration. I judge my own religion to be true — otherwise, why support it — and others to some degree false. Other believers judge mine to be false. It is a better thing to treat each other with respect, and to stress what we hold in common rather than what divides us.

It would have been good to have had time at the end to reply to Heather’s Parthian shot (as she uttered it, she did not know the timekeeper would call an end to the conversation).

Finally (for now), I agree with Michael Potemra’s judgment. Heather performed with great grace, civility, and blunt honesty last night. I did not do as good a job as I had hoped. As we both agreed at the beginning, it normally takes a long time in conversation to achieve true disagreement. Most “disagreements” turn out to occur from mutual misunderstanding on key words and mental associations. In the end, we often do come to the point at which we say: “Well, I guess we cannot agree on that point. Here is my evidence, here is yours. Let’s reconsider and come back to this later.”

It is not credible for atheists to say believers don’t care about evidence. Not, at least, when a great many atheists seem utterly unquestioning about their own opinions, not to say insufferably superior in pronouncing them. This passage from John is unworthy of him, and very self-serving indeed:

Apropos which (I am just regurgitating random thoughts I had yesterday while listening to Heather and Michael), could believers please lay off bringing out their precious, nursed and petted “doubts” and displaying them to us? You guys don’t really have any doubts. You believe the thing you believe, and you fully intend to go on believing it, because it’s what you believe, and you believe it because it’s true, and you know it’s true because it’s what you believe. Your “doubts” are all bogus. I, at any rate, find them deeply unconvincing. You just play with the idea of having doubts, “like playing at cards for no money.” These doubts of yours are mere valueless tokens of humility, fake driver licenses to get you served at the Free Enquiry bar. There is no free enquiry in religion. The answers are all known in advance.

Part of Heather’s great merit is that she is large-spirited toward others, while retaining her native blunt honesty about where she thinks believers lack evidence, in a respectful conversational way.