Monday, February 27, 2012

Clinging to minor points

   One thing that I have occasionally noticed in dealing with religious people is they will cling on to minor trivialities. The purpose of this seems to avoid discussing the major point, which I suspect to be an area of discomfort for the believer.

   One of the first times I noticed this occurred nearly two years ago now. In the discussion, I brought up a point made by Julia Sweeney where she observed that a common tactic cults use is to get people to abandon their families and what do you know?!? There is a verse in the New Testament where Jesus tells his followers they need to abandon their families to follow him. The Julia Sweeney quote is as follows:
In Luke, Chapter 14, Jesus says, "Anyone who comes to me and does not hate father and mother, brothers and sisters, wife and children cannot be my disciple."

I mean, isn't that what cults do? Get you to reject your family in order to inculcate you?

   The Christian that I was having the discussion with, instead of addressing the main point, drug the conversation over to whether or not that translation was correct. He wanted the translation to be "love less" instead of "hate". It baffled me why he was so insistent on that, and I admit I failed to keep the conversation under control after that. He eventually claimed I was closed minded for not accepting the translation he wanted. That stunned me, too. I really didn't care one way or the other about the translation because I failed to see how it changed the main point. About the only difference that word change would make that I could see would be to change the emotional overtones, but such a change would not void my point.

   As far as why I bring this up now is because I saw a similar example within the last week. Cenk Uyger of The Young Turks went on a rant mocking the Mormon church for baptizing Anne Frank. See the video here.

   At the time I viewed this video, one of the top comments (though not very highly rated) was from someone claiming to be a Mormon and they said they had lost respect for Uyger for suggesting that the Mormons chant when performing baptisms, pointing out they must have missed that memo (or lesson...I can't remember the exact word used). But if you watch the video, Uyger himself admits shortly after he made his mocking chanting noises that he didn't know if the Mormons actually chanted and pointed out that it didn't matter. The important point was that the Mormons baptize dead people and that is loony.

   Yet, the commenter decided to focus on this suggestion that Mormons chant when performing baptisms. I could understand if they felt offended that Uyger mocked their religion, and that's probably the real reason the commenter had "lost respect," but this was not given as the reason. Instead, the commenter attacked those remarks as if they had been reported as fact.

   The last thing I wish to say before closing is that I'm not sure the believers even recognize when they are making much ado about nothing. I suspect they are just grasping for straws, so to speak, seeking out any point of disagreement on which they can object. Their problem is that the points they find are minor to the point of being insignificant. Yet, they have to defend their faith, so defend it they will, even if the only person who can be convinced of that defense is themself and they make fools of themselves to everyone else.

   To the skeptics reading this, if you see a theist attempting to distract away from your main point by objecting to trivialities, call them out on it and do so quickly. You can do so politely by asking them to explain how that changes the main point or you could be blunt. But if you don't call them out, they'll think you to be the fool. To the theists reading this, if you can't object to the main point, then consider conceding that point. Objecting to trivialities only makes you look like a fool, as well as verifying to the skeptic the stupidity of religion.

   Before I got around to finalizing this for posting, I encountered a similar example today. This time in politics. I stumbled mid-conversation on a comment board and the discussion was about oil subsidies. One of the people in the discussion was claiming that the oil industry does not get subsidies; they get tax incentives, which this person claimed are different. The poster referenced some conservative blog for the definition that defined a subsidy as a direct payment. As tax incentives are not direct payments, then they can't be subsidies. The implication of this seemed to be that one can then ignore anyone who suggests that the oil industry no longer receive subsidies because they have revealed themselves to be uninformed on the issue, thus making their perspective invalid.

   The problem here is that many people do not use such a strict definition of the word "subsidy." In fact, if you Google the definition, you will likely find that many definitions do not say a subsidy has to be a direct payment. Therefore, if a subsidy can be an indirect payment, then a tax incentive can count as a subsidy.

   Once again, as with the religious arguments, we have someone who likely does not want to defend their position fairly, so they make a deal out of smaller points; in this case, the poster made an issue out of semantics. Much like how the Christian insisted that people use his translation of the Bible, this poster appeared insistent that people use their definition of "subsidy," ignoring the arguments of those who would dare use a different definition.

   I will add that if this poster wants to personally use a definition of the word "subsidy" that only allows for direct payments, that's fine. As an atheist, I see many people use a definition of the word "atheist" with which I disagree, and I have had to correct people many times, so I can appreciate arguing for better definitions of words. What I and this commenter do not get to do, though, is expect or insist that everyone else use that definition and dismiss the arguments of anyone who does not use our personal definitions. We must argue from what we understand their meaning of the word to be and must ask for clarification if that meaning cannot be determined.

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