The Dialog Begins
by Charles Cherry
Here is Ms. Factor’s response to my reply (see previous post below):
Hello Mr. Cherry,
Well, I’ve taken a look at your letter, and I can see that there is far more there than can be dealt with in a single e-mail. Accordingly, I’m going to break up my response into multiple parts.
I will try to deal with the simpler, more specific questions first, then go on to the deeper and broader issues you raise. In those cases, books could be, and have been, written on the topics. If I feel that another writer has already expressed what I would say much better or more comprehensively, I will refer you specifically to them. But I will try to at least give you a sketch of my own view.
Before we go any further, I must give you fair warning. It is quite likely that you will find my style of writing offensive. I will be as honest and as specific in my meaning as I can, because I have learned from experience that that is the only way to make certain the other person grasps what you really mean. I will avoid vague words that enable evasion, and I will insist on the specific meaning of terms I use, probably until you are sick of such insistence.
All of this violates the prevailing social niceties. Talk of religion in this culture is typically avoided, and when engaged in, it is considered polite to defer to the other party’s choice of language and meaning (which, being mutual, allows both parties to use the same words to mean entirely different things, thus talking past each other forever), and to pretend that no one can pass judgment on the religious beliefs of others. This is simply an exercise in protecting people’s feelings, which is all right under most circumstances, but deadly if what you are seeking is the truth.
Atheists abide by this formula almost all of the time (which is why most people are startled when they find out how many atheists there really are in the population), but among themselves, and when challenged to a frank dialogue, they abandon them for the honest language of true intellectual discourse. This often comes as a shock to those who are used to respectful deference for their religion. They experience as a personal affront. It is not so intended. It is simply a requirement of the exercise. Truth cannot be apprehended through pretense.
Next: finally, an answer to something you said. 🙂
Here is my response:
Charles Cherry sent you this message from Meetup.com:
Subject: Your Introduction
I originally missed your introduction because of the flood of spam that has been filling up my inbox. As I was cleaning it out this morning I found it, and read it, so this email is in response to that.
“It is quite likely that you will find my style of writing offensive. I will be as honest and as specific in my meaning as I can, because I have learned from experience that that is the only way to make certain the other person grasps what you really mean. I will avoid vague words that enable evasion, and I will insist on the specific meaning of terms I use, probably until you are sick of such insistence.”
On the contrary, I find that such insistence is not offensive at all. In fact, I fully agree that words have specific meanings in specific contexts; it is only by sharing a common definition of terms that real discourse can take place. I do not subscribe to the currently prevailing trend that some call “tolerance,” but which in reality is nothing more than “political correctness” run amok.
On the other hand, it is entirely possible to engage in lively debate without resorting to ad hominem attacks, which are rather offensive, and which indicate a lack of competence on the part of the debater or a lack of solid, well-reasoned arguments. You will not offend me by attacking my positions with good, solid evidence and sound arguments.
“All of this violates the prevailing social niceties.”
I am not interested at all in the prevailing social niceties. I am interested in the Truth.
“Talk of religion in this culture is typically avoided, and when engaged in, it is considered polite to defer to the other party’s choice of language and meaning (which, being mutual, allows both parties to use the same words to mean entirely different things, thus talking past each other forever), and to pretend that no one can pass judgment on the religious beliefs of others.”
I agree, and I believe this is because of the prevailing trend of “tolerance.” To most people, “being tolerant” means “Do not say or do anything that might I disagree with, because that will offend me.” I believe this mindset is due to the fact that most people do not really know what they believe or why they believe it, and if they do, they do not have the skill to defend what they believe.
Again, I do not fall in with the “tolerance” crowd, and I will not be offended if you want to “pass judgment” on my religion.
“This is simply an exercise in protecting people’s feelings, which is all right under most circumstances, but deadly if what you are seeking is the truth.”
I wholeheartedly agree.
Finally, I am encouraged that you are interested in an open and honest dialog; I certainly did not expect it. You have indicated that you are willing to spend a lot of time with this. That is commendable. However, it might be better if we agree up front on what topics or questions would make the best use of our time.
For example, I don’t think it would be very productive for us to debate the existence of God. As you know, this is a debate that has been ongoing for literally thousands of years. One cannot prove God’s existence; one can only weigh the evidence for and against, and come to a conclusion based on faith. One believes that a transcendent creator God exists or one believes that all matter and energy just is – it came from nothing, or it has existed eternally in some form or other, but it had no “first cause.” Either option takes a significant amount of faith, since neither option can be “proven” scientifically.
I personally have engaged the various arguments for and against God’s existence, off and on, over the past twenty or thirty years. I have come to the conclusion that the evidence for God’s existence is far and away greater than the evidence against God’s existence.
If you want to debate the evidence for and against God’s existence, I am up for it, but that was really not the main point of my original letter to the editor. That point was this: Christian parents need to take responsibility for the education of their children, and in doing so need to ensure that their children are being taught a biblical worldview in addition to receiving a quality education. This is not happening in the public school system. Therefore, Christian parents need to look closely at the “exit strategy” being put forward by the Southern Baptist Convention, and consider something similar for themselves and their children.
It looks like I am about out of characters, according to the little notice below this edit box on the Meetup Site, so I have probably been too verbose. If you would like to continue this conversation without the limit of the Meetup box, perhaps we can do so via email. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.