Here’s an idea: Treat Believers with Kindness, not Contempt

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by Neil Godfrey

Another one well worth thinking about from Valerie Tarico:

Decent people don’t jeer at others who are functioning poorly in some part of life.

With religious belief holding such an outsized influence on our society, it is reasonable that atheists, humanists and other freethinkers push back against religious superstitions, outdated social scripts and archaic rules. But one way we often do this is by ridiculing believers themselves, which is less reasonable. . . . . 

The post is on Valerie Tarico’s blog: Treat Believers with Kindness, not Contempt

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Neil Godfrey

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9 thoughts on “Here’s an idea: Treat Believers with Kindness, not Contempt”

  1. I read an article or saw a video recently, I don’t recall where, which noted that 90% of differences between people comes down to a lack of nuance on one or both sides, either intentionally or unintentionally.

    I see that highlighted here. “Decent people don’t jeer at others who are functioning poorly in some part of life.”

    No, no they don’t. But decent people, when others who are functioning poorly in some part of life are negatively impacting their life or the lives of others, seek to change the behavior of those people.

    We all hope that rational discourse, evidence, and a push for critical thought will be enough to sway someone “functioning poorly in life” to evaluate what they’re doing, and compel them to be civil members of society. But what if it doesn’t? At what point do we determine that rational discourse, evidence, and critical thought are not sufficient to drive change? When those things are not sufficient, what next?

    While ridicule shouldn’t be the tool of first resort, it’s still a tool, and should be used when other tools have been demonstrated to be insufficient. Believers believe some incredibly stupid shit. And that stupid shit can be used as justification for suffering, torture, and death. While the first tools should be discourse, facts, evidence, and an appeal to justice and morality, those tools do not always work.

    Ridicule has it’s place.

    And even if ridicule isn’t effective in changing the mind of the target of that ridicule, it may be effective in changing the mind of others.

    Banning a tool from use is never wise. Even if it shouldn’t be used often, a tool is a tool. And ridicule is a tool. And fuck the motherfucker, fuck the motherfucking pope.

    1. If you really think the persons with the bad ideas is going to use those ideas to commit murder then surely ridiculing that person is the last thing you would seriously want to do.

      No, we don’t try to change the behaviour of others if we cannot persuad them by argument. If argument does not work with all, it surely will work with some, and that’s not a bad thing. If we fear bad ideas have some basis that is not logical then we can look for the causes of the growth and spread of those ideas and address those causes. Or we can just jail or kill people.

      If people are warned off embracing “silly ideas” by seeing the ridicule levelled against others with those ideas, that is not good. Playing on people’s fears like that is not respecting people or treating them with dignity.

  2. Another excellent essay from her. I realized back during my pre-Internet life, when I was still quite isolated from other secularist skeptics, the importance of distinguishing ideas from the people who hold them. As evil as (for example) racism is, it doesn’t mean racists must be evil people.

    1. It’s a difficult question, isn’t it. I actually struggle with the idea that we can “hate the sin but love the sinner”. Doing real homework to understand why racism is rife among some people is a way forward, at least to working towards solutions, I think. But sometimes, I do fear, people are just shits — I am losing at last some of my youthful polyannish wishes. Perhaps the only solution in some cases really is brain surgery or a new diet. Hopefully the world will remain big enough to ignore the incorrigibles.

  3. “Decent people don’t jeer at others who are functioning poorly in some part of life.”

    I’m sure many believers would take it as contempt.

  4. I never expected to share here more personally as this…

    When I was a young boy I grew up in a highly poverty stricken neighborhood filled with violence and every kind of evil act and thought, and one night I saw a female body on the sidewalk in the freezing cold temperatures of Wpg, Manitoba, dying from exposure,, and I felt something loving and deep in my heart, not my mind or theology or abstract philosophy or theology, nothing like that, I encountered someone dying right in front of me and I made a decision right then and there to do what I could do to help her live,,, period… It has nothing to do with flesh or spirit. You may encounter dying breath, and you or me , out of human empathy( which creates much moral passion towards well being) will decide to do something and you do not know what the outcome might be…

    But again, you must weigh with discerning ways what might cost your own life and others around you…. this is our horrible and tragic world, full of secularism and religion, we must choose, and most of the time it is so difficult to know what to do or what to believe…or say to help someone…

    Christians or non-Christians.. live with integrity and insight and most of all when explanations fail in this or that saying or event —show love with discernment, and please forgive me since I am stealing an ethical phrase from Paul’s Christic Stoic ethics in Phillipians,..real love has discerning elements… it is not totally blind!!!

    ……………………………………enough for now..

    Oh my.. the angst of belief and unbelief… the sun and the rain… it falls on believers and unbelievers…alike……….!!!!!

    1. I don’t think “belief” has anything to do with it. As you suggest, it’s entirely visceral. We are all human. That is all we need to keep in mind. No, “keeping in mind” is belief. We are all human, and that’s it. Oppose beliefs that draw distinctions among us.

      1. Ya, so raw… Here we engage in so much that is painful… thanks Neil,, it is visceral…

        One of my favorite texts in the gospels is when the story tells us that his guts spilled out or his spalanchna his most inward parts spilt out in response to someone in need…

        Jewish and christian literature is surely full with interesting stories and ideas about the human situation…and also all “myths” of the interactions between humans and their ideas, images and ideals of god..

  5. Neil, your stimulation output in these blogs is overwhelming!!

    How do we treat “believers”…what believers?..and what do they believe ?.. many believe Mark and John are relevant to our day……. okay…let’s work with that since you have raised that.. many believe that Mark and so and so on,has relevance for them…

    So here we have all these fascinating discussions about Mark and John and so on, and we have often, though not everyone, have agreed that at this point these texts have human finger-prints all over them ..nothing divine as we can determine yet…

    …seen empirically as human texts of people in incredibly terrible testings, conditions, influences, (satans –adversaries everywhere) —apocalyptic contexts — apocalyptic anxieties, ….where almost , if not all its “readers” see things both implicitly and explicitly (Mark 13)))). It is parabolic as he the gospel itself teaches, not literal…. a real human Bible to get at the core of mere appearance!!!! There are externals and internals….

    What on earth is literal and also divine at the same time in Mark? What criteria do we use to distinguish between human and divine texts and readings of texts?

    This is the crux which not one apologist has ever adequately addressed to my knowledge and critical inquiry with success. Calvin and Charismatics included!!!!! What an indictment! 🙂 🙂

    Someone!!!!! please tell us !

    These texts speak of a different time and now many get caught up in it all and think it is all happening “now”… again!!!! People give their money to keep the apocalyptic time table rolling, no matter how much it has been debunked over and over again,, regardless of Preterism’s attempts to do damage control for unfulfilled prophecies and their attempt as such to defend Biblical inerrancy!!!!

    They have much to offer but again, note their agenda…. it has nothing to do with real scholarship,,,including NT Wright or “Wrong”, however you view him 🙂

    so here we have it …so fitting for Mark…even if you take 66-70CE or Bar Kochba (2nd cent), and yet we have hindsight as to such events.(which actually did happen,,,ie. the destruction of Jer. in both 66-70 and later yet!).. Detering et al. and many more (Robert M. Price, etc. etc. )

    many people, believers or otherwise are so desperate to make sense out of most disturbing times when many entertain apocalyptic shadows…. omens… of things their faith tells them to believe in or adhere as to apocalyptic … .apocalyptic is not just about “end time” stuff… in Mark or John… They don’t agree in many ways, though I think John used Mark and then dismisses things he doesn’t agree with…Mt./lk has a text where Jesus says John the Baptist is Elijah. and yet John himself says “I am not Elijah”‘. Okay,, something is fishy here…This is what people do with texts and traditions when the shit starts hitting the fan in any context….make up shit to help everyone escape.!!!!!!!

    btw I would not want such literature to disappear all together… since it does have interesting suggestions, connections, which may or may not influence us for both good and bad….

    and again there are agendas of different sorts to contend with when this or that person or group puts forth a different look at the data available to all of us…

    No holy spirit or any kind of spirit settles such deep and difficult issues as all these interpretation of texts involve…

    I remember back in 1983 when I was studying historical and legal apologetics
    with Dr. John Warwick Montgomery in Europe and England. In many respects he abhored any appeal to the testimony of the Holy Spirit… I came away from Montgomery , not as an atheist but as “sensitive” and hopefully reflective empirical rational thinking human being…

    Unfortunately, I no longer share his beliefs as to Christianity itself,, but I learned so much from him that I cannot totally speak of here….

    Christianity has no “one” origin, historical or spiritual (god I hate that word!!!). Read more history and you will see it is not so… And all this “plurality” is reflected in the NT.!!!!

    Everyone interpreted the “Christ” event differently and they don’t all agree in their renderings……So while you live reasonably and humanly intelligently in the light of so much material it can make your head get real big headaches… and “beliefs” or “faith” alone won’t heal you from them!! Take it from someone who has firsthand evidence…

    prima facie in fact. not in some law court but for me at least…. and I could be an exception….:) who cares???

    bottom line…

    it would take a lot now to convince of Christianity’s truthfulness from an over-all perspective. I’ve fantasized about what would convince me Jesus rose from the dead physically and one time while studying I cor. 15 I came to the conclusion that I would want the 500 hundred to appear before me so I can interrogate them regarding the so called physical resurrection of Jesus…all 500 of them , even if it took me months!! But alas it is not to be!!!

    And especially when it comes to interpreting its primary texts… I am a free-man yet a responsible reader of these texts as I can be and want to be…

    Let us all do our best to render the alien and ancient present to us in the best tools and methods possible…

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