Us Vs. Them

Jeremy Stangroom over at the Philosophy Talk blog brings up some good points about “contrarianism,” the idea of “believing or accepting something to be true, rather than finding out that something is true (yes, I know – the distinction is complex).” He writes,

My distaste for this kind of thing (narcissistic, self-congratulation when it comes to debates among contrarians) is motivated by a number of things. But perhaps most significantly I don’t trust the warm, fuzzy feelings that people experience when they think (or experience) themselves as part of a group – real or imagined – that is (seen to be) specially privileged in some way (even if in principle there are no barriers to entry to the group). This is the case whether we’re talking about a humanist group convinced that the methods of rational enquiry are the best way to get at the truth (even if such methods are indeed the best way to get at the truth), or a religious group convinced that it is the locus of revealed truth. My worry here is that such warm, fuzzy feelings link up all too neatly with Us and Them distinctions (worthy and unworthy; right thinking and wrong thinking [where such a judgement is thoroughly enmeshed with the moral] ; the enlightened and the unenlightened; and so on); with a kind of epistemic complacency (namely, a tendency to elide subtle distinctions, to ignore complications and tensions, and so on); and with a kind of moral authoritarianism (where the uninitiated are judged in some sense morally suspect for their refusal to see the light, etc. [obviously this is a subset of the Us and Them distinction thing]).

I’m with him on this one. Just because I have an experience doesn’t mean I think that everyone has to have a similar one. The same goes for Christians. The height of pride says, “I’ve found what works for me and now everyone else must find it.” Nope. Sorry. Everyone has their own path to follow. I can’t tell you where yours is and you can’t tell me where mine is. You can talk about your experience, but once you’ve shared, trying to convince me to hop off my path and join you on yours, your treading on taboo ground in my book.

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11 thoughts on “Us Vs. Them

  1. I agree with what you said. It is an easy trap to fall into where we think that we have the answers the other person or group does not. We must be open to all possibilities!

  2. Hi MOI, as a recovering church addict I certainly grew up with the idea that going out and trying to convert people to my wonderful new shiny problem-solved, life-sorted religion was not just a good thing, but even the heaven-sent will of that elusive God whatever (it does say “Go“). In the wisdom of hindsight, I have come to deeply suspect that what I was “sharing” was more an ideology that anything else. To make matters worse, the church tradition in which I grew up tended to encourage a “right and wrong” mentality that has taken me many years to shake. Bob is a Mormon – he is wrong. Fred is a Christian – he is right. You get the idea. So beleiving I was on a mission from God (I need you, you, you …), that I was right and they were wrong, and that all these poor lost and lonely peoples lives would be improved so drastically by meeting God (He’s very nice and good and loving you know)- you can hardly knock me for trying to “win a few converts” lol
    Anyway, we’re all a bit bigger now and those teenage black and white years have gone as grey as our hair (or the imminent threat – me, its the grey flicks on the sides – thanks for the reminder). I’m just not interested in tryng to sell anything to anyone anymore. They can go buy it themselves when they’re good and ready.
    I think the main reason people try so hard to convince or convert other people (and may I point out that you dear MOI are as zealous an evangelist for your gospel of agnostism that has ever graced our planet) is because we need to hear it ourselves, we need to hear it over and over again because we ourselves have doubts, deep doubts, and in telling others we are reassuring ourselves that what we are saying is true (or truer than something else) because we can hear it being said. This happens in all areas of life. “Hey, MOI, I’ve just bought a new car! Take a look – its got a overhead triple-charger widget and a high-speed flimflam! It’s great! I got it for a bargain price! It’s a great car! Hey MOI, you should buy one too!”
    My two cents worth. Mystery – I’m going to start charging you brain-tax! Your post questions are so dammned tricky and hard my brain overheats, my ears go red, and my wife is beginning to worry that I think more about you and all your issues than her (and all her issues) 😉
    Here is a short extract from an old post of mine. This realisation took all the heat off me wanting to “convert people from right to wrong”, gave me time to celebrate our similarities more than our differences, and generally meant I as a whole lot nicer to live with:

    No-one has got it ALL right. Not the Catholics. Not the Protestants. Not the Mormons. Not the Athiests. Not the Satanists.

    BUT …

    No one has got it ALL wrong. Not the Catholics. Not the Protestants. Not the Mormons. Not the Athiests. Not the Satanists.

    All truth is God’s truth and He peppers it throughout His creation and delights in us (ALL of us) discovering it, as each of us make our own ‘lifelong pilgrimmage toward truth’, regardless of what silly labels we put on ourselves.

    Jon

  3. Jon,

    🙂 Me? A evangelistic agnostic?? Well, I suppose you’re right in the sense that I am insistent that people not pigeonhole me like some of my other posters: post23 and Andrew.

    But again, you are also right that labels are silly, which I why I’m going to make up another designation for my journey, something totally unrelated to theism and put that in the side bar. Didn’t you once say that you look for the day when I define myself for what I DO believe in rather than what I don’t?

  4. Indeed I did say that! I guess that – like you – I can rant on and on about how dumb some Christians are, blah, blah, vomit, blah, but after a while this does get bland, and is ultimately just a small molecule-width or two about pointless.
    I am much more interested in hearing about your journey, your discoveries, your insights, your conclusions. You cannot deny your years as a Christian (and you have expressed your hurt when others have tried to deny it by saying you were never really a true Christian – may the urine gods piss on them from a very great height). We all agree that so much (did I say much – sorry, I meant most) of churchey-Christianity-Jesus loves you-don’t-worry-about-the-starving-children-heres the gospel-in-4-easy-steps is idealistic, simplistic, reductionist, manipulative, childish or just plain too stoopid for words. But now what? We all know what you don’t believe. We want to hear what you DO believe! (yaaaayyyyy – loud stomping of feet in background – the organisers struggle to control the crowd)
    Jon

  5. First a disclaimer: I am a Christian. But, I reject organized religion for myself. It serves some very well, and others only for a time. The reason I am a Christian is because I have examined many philosophies and belief systems and I find the Christian motif the most intellectually satisfying. I don’t think others are wrong. I am not so arrogant as to think that I was smart enough to choose the “right” path. In my belief system, god loves all whether or not they believe in him at all. He does not change the world or the laws of nature and the universe to seek revenge on a few. I do however truly believe that the Sins of the Father are visited on the cildren. Meaning that for every action there is a reaction. If you abuse your children, you will damage them, etc. Ok, now to comment on the post:

    I think the reason many Christians are so desperate to convert others is becuase they are taught early on that the tree is known by its fruit. Further, there is tremendous pressure to produce fruit. Some of it is genuine zealousness for God, but some of it is in search of the church supporting tithe. But, in both instances, there is much pressure to conform. So, many people murder their true selves, and wear a mask so that others can never see the real them, but worse, perhpas they lie to themselves and bury their “sinful” nature deep inside, hoping that if they supress it long enough god will cleanse it. These are immature Christians and they don’t even know it, because they are using the performance of their flesh as the meter of how spiritual they are. I think we all understand the different psychological disorders that can mimic perfection. And you can well bet that anyone who is fire and brimstoning his brother is so full of sin he can barely live with himself. Again, basic psychology of projection.

    The mature spiritual person accepts themselves for who they are and trust God to work out their nature through the daily living of their lives as one learns to align their hearts with god’s will, whatever that may be. And the thing is, what we think is the most offensive to god may not be or he may find somthing to be dealt with in one but not another. And just as science does not understand the whys and hows of the universe, neither do we understand the whys and hows of God.

  6. Robin,
    Bravo, well said. I like:
    “I find the Christian motif the most intellectually satisfying. I don’t think others are wrong. I am not so arrogant as to think that I was smart enough to choose the “right” path. In my belief system, god loves all whether or not they believe in him at all. He does not change the world or the laws of nature and the universe to seek revenge on a few.”

    This is so true. What’s wrong with preaching a God that will save everyone? Why is that so difficult to wrap our minds around? Are we so vicious that we must posit hell to get others to all believe the same way?

    You also wrote:
    “I think we all understand the different psychological disorders that can mimic perfection. And you can well bet that anyone who is fire and brimstoning his brother is so full of sin he can barely live with himself. Again, basic psychology of projection.”

    I think this is so true on a very deep level. I’m almost beginning to feel sorry for those fundamentalists who writhe and scream and wish you to hell because you don’t believe what they do. (see Andrew’s and post23’s posts in the Driscoll article)

    I like your summation of why you are a Christian. You and Jon should have some discussions. You, he, and I are all in the same boat so to speak. Rub-a-dub-dub!

  7. MOI,

    When we first leave fundamentalism, then the church and maybe Christianity as we knew it, it takes time. I’m always on this “time” thing because I’ve been there, done that. 🙂

    Quite often people respond to our leaving our belief system with questions like, “Well what DO you believe?” People aren’t comfortable (and this isn’t about Jon as I see you and Jon know one another and he’s kind of teasing with you a bit) :-)…but people can’t understand one sort of being in a state of limbo, a journey as you will. You came to a crossroads, you made a decision to get off the fundamentalist road, but now some will want to know where you are now. What road are you on now? You don’t know? Aren’t you scared? What if it’s the wrong road? What if you get too far from the theist road that you can never find your way back? God forbid you end up on the *gulp* atheist road, lost forever? Aaaaaaaaaccccchhh!

    When asked repeatedly at one time, what I believed now, I’d respond, I believe I’m at peace.

  8. **No-one has got it ALL right. Not the Catholics. Not the Protestants. Not the Mormons. Not the Athiests. Not the Satanists.

    BUT …

    No one has got it ALL wrong. Not the Catholics. Not the Protestants. Not the Mormons. Not the Athiests. Not the Satanists.**

    Agreed. It’s always been a little puzzling to me how fundamentalists are so ‘sure’ of their truth. The concept is that God is infinite, and mysterious, and often beyond our understanding. And yet fundamentalists rush to put God in a box — but isn’t that a little arrogant? Surely an infinite being would have a variety of ways of understanding Him/Her, such as through a sunrise, or the laugther of a child. Isn’t it much more likely that everyone rather has a ‘piece’ of the infinite?

    The other reason why I hold this is that math is universal, music is universal … and yet knowing the infinite isn’t?

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