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Humanist Fellowship of San Diego Message Board › How Not to Talk About the Beliefs of Others

How Not to Talk About the Beliefs of Others

A former member
Post #: 43
[Article from HuffPost regarding the Oprah and others]
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Recently two celebrities offered us mirror textbook cases on how not to talk about the belief -- or lack thereof -- of another.

On a show that aired on Oct. 13, Oprah Winfrey hosted Diana Nyad who has recently completed a historic swim from Cuba to Florida. In the now famous exchange, Nyad, who is an atheist explained her beliefs to Oprah:

I can stand at the beach's edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist, go on down the line, and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity. All the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt and suffered. So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.
"Well, I don't call you an atheist then," Winfrey said. "I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, then that is what God is. That is what God is. It's not a bearded guy in the sky."

Oprah came under a heated attack by atheists who thought they deserved an apology for her lack of understanding.

In a similar exchange, Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher made their own assessment of the beliefs of others in a conversation on Bill Maher's show Real Time. First, Bill Maher professed his belief that Pope Francis is 'secretly an atheist', then Dawkins responded by saying : "Like many people, I'm sure that [President Barack] Obama is an atheist."

While not shouting it from the mountain tops, Obama has consistently professed his Christian faith, goes to church, and even welcomed daily scripture reflections sent to him via email by Joshua Dubois who has recently published a collection of those in a book entitled The President's Devotional. And Pope Francis..

What is similar about these cases is that both Oprah and Maher/Dawkins are confronted with people whose values, intelligence, and world view they respect.

Oprah heard Nyad talk about the wonder she felt at the universe and her definition of 'God as humanity' and thought 'oh, I resonate with that... you are actually a theist.' Bill Maher/Richard Dawkins look with admiration at the work of Pope Francis and Barack Obama, and respect their intelligence and ethics and decree that they are actually atheists.

In both cases, Oprah and Dawkins/Maher are being simultaneously arrogant and complimentary. Arrogant, in that they assume that anyone who has a similar world view as they do is secretly 'one of them'; and complimentary, in that they are saying I admire you enough to claim you for my own belief system.

What we can learn from these two vivid examples is that we all have the right to decide how to identify ourselves in terms of religion or lack thereof. It is not for others to affix their identity upon us, or strip ours from us.

More positively, these exchanges reveal a truth that is uncomfortable for those who are most invested in the atheist vs religion fight -- no matter what religious or areligious identity we proclaim, many of our world views will overlap in the areas of wonder, ethics, intelligence and aesthetics in surprising and wonderful ways.

Instead of denying these similarities that exist between people of different faith traditions and those who have no faith tradition, let's celebrate what we share, even as we respect those variances that make us different. Ultimately, let's all work together on the most important project -- to make this world a more just, peaceful and beautiful place.
A former member
Post #: 18
I recently spent several hours with a devout Christian discussing ethics, science, and a variety of other interesting topics. At the end of our time together, he declared me a Christian who just didn't know I was one. I found that extremely annoying. But this article gives me so insight into his perspective. I guess perhaps it was meant as a compliment.....
LJ
LaTortuga
Chula Vista, CA
Post #: 134
Appreciate the discussion. I suppose it could be their form of a compliment, I do get that. Intelligence and respect also goes along the lines of being able to be a good human. I don't believe their labels, but I can respect that they love to hand them out, it's a box of intelligence in which most people live. If it's not labeled or defined, some people are at a loss. As for the Oprah comments, it was disappointing, but it's also a very political response, same as Obama. It's politics.
lynn
lynn-riggs
San Diego, CA
Post #: 10
Great conversation, Michael, Jenji, and LJ. In addition to both arrogant and complimentary attitudes, I would add ignorance and fear. Not many of us work hard to truly understand others or the perspectives of others - it's just hard and it takes time. It's easier to throw our net of understanding over them and plug them into our schema, regardless of whether they fit. Even those of us with similar belief systems rarely bother to explore the nuances of differences in our perspectives. There is a fear of the unknown (and when "atheist" is one of the concepts, with all its negative connotations, all the more reluctance to dive in and explore that). So fear keeps us ignorant, which leads to our arrogance. I'm a little less able to get to the "complimentary" argument - I would categorize it more as an attempt to regard someone as "o.k." ("You believe the same stuff I do! You are worthy of my label, and I'm going to assess it to you! I feel so much better now.") If we could be more tolerant of each others' views, and not feel the need to denigrate them, we wouldn't have the absurdity of Maher's and Dawkins' comments. Nevertheless, looking for the commonalities among us might be a far better use of our time.
Taylor
SDTaylor
Oceanside, CA
Post #: 152
This article is profoundly moronic on two different levels.

Level #1: Oprah is an idiot. Oprah doesn't understand what she believes, what others believe, or what non-belief actually is. Oprah foolishly, amateurishly, and rudely projected her ignorance onto someone else here. The similarity in what Oprah did in this situation and what Dawkins did with Obama, is non-existent.

President Obama is a highly educated person who was raised mainly by atheists. He only joined a church when he entered politics and immediately stopped once he was elected President (I don't believe his family goes anymore either). The possibility of President Obama actually being a Christian and not just saying so for his political career, is both statistically and factually ignorant. This is why Dawkins, Maher, and every other person with common sense believes Obama to be an atheist. Additionally, those with the courage to do so, stand up and point these things out for a very important and historical reason. A person that does not profess a faith in Jesus Christ has been unable to be elected for office in this secular nation for quite some time now. This is wrong. So it is powerful and important when it is pointed out that atheists are already in office.

As for the pope, it seemed to be more of a joke. One in which Dawkins responded to saying that he doesn't think the pope is an atheist. However, we learn more and more (not like we didn't also guess) that much of the clergy/ministry/leaders of religions often know that at least the book, is in no way true. There is a quote that I'm too lazy to source at the moment that says, "In a 'cult' there is a person at the top that knows it's a scam. In a 'religion' that person is dead." Obviously there is a lot of truth in this, but it's not hard to figure out why and how many of the leaders of even religions know it's a scam. We all know that the almost every living prophet in the Mormon religion, most certainly knows that he is not speaking directly with God. Why should it be any different with the pope. Now, whether or not that means they're actually an atheist, is maybe something more. Which is probably why Dawkins was not willing to say that the pope was an atheist (even though Dawkins has worked with many clergy members that are with the Clergy Project).

So the reason that Dawkins, Maher, and other people say that certain religious leaders and politicians are actually atheists, despite their proclaimations otherwise - is because there is very good reason and evidence that certain individuals are actually atheists; and again, it is incredibly impactful and important to do so. NOT because they find similarities with them or want to redefine "theist" as one who just feels wonder and awe. Again, the similarity between what Oprah did and the way she behaved is in no way analogous to what Dawkins and others have realized regarding President Obama.

Level #2: The conclusion of this article, as sweet as it may be, is in no way connected with the events that it discusses. It discusses events in which people find similarities with one another and then it criticizes them for "denying these similarities" which of course, didn't happen. At what point and in what way did Dawkins or Oprah deny similarities they have with the opposing worldview? They didn't. In fact, as the article explains, they only pointed the similarities out.

Further, those "invested in the atheist vs religion fight" are very often interested in it, because they are interested in equal rights for all (or in denying the same for others). When it comes to standing up for issues like these, surely one cannot seriously recommend solely celebrating what we share with our opponents. When a worldview/religion demands that the LGBTQ community need be discriminated against and/or women should not be given the opportunity of an education (etc., etc., etc., etc.) - you'll have to excuse me; but I don't give a shit that we both look at the stars in wonderment or all like Chinese food. This is embarrassingly shortsighted and fantastically ignorant of reality. What a pitiful attempt to make something with serious consequences not seem so and to pretend that those that stand-up for others are only just being rude. For shame.
lynn
lynn-riggs
San Diego, CA
Post #: 11
Sean, you make some great points. It would be a little easier for me to take them in without the relatively excessive assessment of pejoratives, but I'm learning that one has to be ready to have shit slung at them if they want to engage in dialogue and learn things on this forum. I appreciate the perspective you provide - I'm new to Humanism and don't have the depth and breadth of your knowledge - probably never will. I apologize for my ignorance and seriously look forward to learning from you. I will attempt to be less embarrassingly shortsighted, fantastically ignorant, pitiful, idiotic, rude, and shameful (whew!).
A former member
Post #: 44
“It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.”
― Winston Churchill

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”
― Albert Einstein
Taylor
SDTaylor
Oceanside, CA
Post #: 154
.....embarrassingly shortsighted, fantastically ignorant, pitiful, idiotic, rude, and shameful (whew!).
Lynn,

I am so afraid that you might think or thought that any of my fanciful language was for you. I hope you realized that I did not use your name; and nor did I take issue with or reference anything you said. I had an issue with what Oprah did and how the author of the article took this opportunity to write a piece trying to say that "the atheists" are just as bad as the believers. Admittedly, this is an argument that I am sick of hearing and I do not respect the sly little way it was presented in this article.

As far as my knowledge is concerned, I know only that there is not much of it. I also don't think I mentioned that I know everything about Humanism or anything else. So I hope you don't take me that way.

Regarding my language, it is true that "Oprah is an idiot" may not be the most effective way to open one's mind about the issue. Your point is understood and I hope to keep it in mind. You may certainly have to remind of this in the future however and I honestly hope you do. The thing is, "Oprah is an idiot" is really fun to say and after three times now, I still giggle each time I do it. :-) However, I really hope that you and others realize that was not the entirety of my comment and I went on to explain why I think she is. It's also not like I was using the "F" word or racial slurs though, so I don't know that I am the worst in this sort of thing.

Anyways, I really take no issue with your original comment and meant none of my enjoyable (though only to me) rant towards you or your comment. You didn't write the article or even post it, and you're not Oprah.

Cheers, from some dumb asshole. ;-)
Taylor
SDTaylor
Oceanside, CA
Post #: 155
“It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.”
― Winston Churchill

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”
― Albert Einstein
You on the other hand.... What the hell is this? Why don't you just quote something I said and explain your feelings on it? Regarding any of these quotes, can you please refer to something I said that they could be a direct response to (in any constructive way). Did I mention or imply an absolute wisdom I contain that I am unwavering on? Did I claim to know everything, or even imply it? Do you do this to everyone that disagrees with you? Is this a sort of "let's agree to disagree" sort of thing? Why even bother typing? I must admit though, it looks terribly tempting to be so lazily condescending towards others. "What's that, you have evidence that the claim I just made might be incorrect? Well you know, Einstein once said that it takes a true genius to admit the they know nothing." What kind of response is that? Are you implying that Oprah is right about feeling awe, actually making someone a believer in god? If so, say so and tell me why. Are you implying that the author of this article is correct in saying what Dawkins did is exactly like what Oprah did; or that Dawkins called out Obama's atheism, because he thinks he's smart (and not for all the other reasons I pointed out)? If you disagree with anything I said, please just tell me and please tell me why. Pretty please though, don't attempt to have Einstein call me an idiot without explanation; or have other famous people make your arguments for you in the fashion of a Tweet. If for no other reason, it's real easy for others to learn and play this game (especially while on the internet).

“He wrapped himself in quotations - as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.”
― Rudyard Kipling

“[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business."
― A.A. Milne

“The problem with quotes on the internet is you never know if they are genuine.”
― Joseph Stalin

“I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.”
― Albert Einstein
A former member
Post #: 20
Well, I have to say that the Stalin quote is my all-time favorite! Thanks for the morning giggle. I needed that!
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