Copy and Paste Dialogue

I don’t mind a theist being inspired by another person’s arguments or ideas. I don’t mind a theist referencing someone else’s ideas and arguments in his own arguments. There’s nothing wrong with including a link or a quoted passage, in a correspondence, to someone else’s data or views. But if a person comes to me announcing that he wants to talk to me about his beliefs, he should at least do me the courtesy of presenting his beliefs—whether or not they are supplemented by the ideas of those who have influenced his thinking.

The author of Article X, from which the theist quotes, is not the person who contacted me to discuss her beliefs. If that author wants to hear my views about her beliefs, she is able to write to me and request my feedback. But I see no value in pretending that a long strand of copied and pasted material from her article is the view of the theist who wrote to me to dialogue about his beliefs.

If a theist writes and wants to know my response to a particular article or view that is not his own, that’s fine. But he should refrain from calling it his belief, if all he can do is parrot the argument of someone else. If he lacks sufficient understanding of the concept to be able to so much as restate it in his own terms or respond to questions without running back to the source, then he shouldn’t put it forward as his belief.

Forming our own beliefs in life is not the same as memorizing and internalizing someone else’s arguments and ideas. To label such things as our own beliefs is plagiaristic and shows a woeful lack of understanding about what constitutes forming beliefs of our own. In order to dialogue about what I believe requires I have a firm enough grasp on the belief to express it clearly, in my own terms, to others, and also to respond to questions without seeking input from any source beyond my own mind. Anything that can honestly be labeled as my belief can exist nowhere but inside my own mind. A prerequisite to holding a belief is understanding the belief. It is not possible for a person to both assert a proposition is true, and to fail to understand the proposition. When questioned about what we believe—why should we need to go and look it up? If I find myself looking up my response to a question that concerns what I claim I believe, clearly, I have a dilemma.

If someone were to ask me, for example, what I believe regarding UFO activity on our planet, I can’t imagine it would make sense to that person if I said, “give me a second to go and look up what Carl Sagan has to say about that, because I believe whatever he says.” How can I call it my belief if it (a) is not contained within my own mind, and (b) I don’t even know what it is I’m claiming I believe while I am asserting I accept it as true?

I seem to see more often than is comfortable long-winded e-mails that ultimately say, “I don’t understand it myself, but I absolutely believe it.”

Read a banned book

Twigged to this a little late, but apparently it’s Banned Books Week until the 4th. Now of course, one does not need a formally dedicated week in which to read a banned book. But it’s always good to support the efforts of the American Library Association in bringing to light all of the attempts at censorship that — amazingly, considering it’s 2008 — still go on whenever someone’s precious ideology is offended.

So celebrate by reading a banned book. One that’s on the list of most frequently challenged titles is, of course, Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, which is about six million and three times better than the movie made of it. (So if you saw and disliked the movie, that shouldn’t steer you away from giving the book a shot. Just sayin’.) And its sequels only ramp up the challenges to religion. There’s also Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War, which had the good fortune to be made into an excellent movie, and both versions of which paint a less than flattering picture of the culture within Catholic schools.

Austinites: learn how to evangelize this Sunday

Hope I’ll be forgiven for some shameless self-promotion today. I am this month’s designated lecturer. This Sunday at the Austin History Center, starting at 12:15, I’ll be giving a lecture on how to be an effective evangelist. The event description is as follows:

Russell Glasser will discuss tactics for atheist outreach. Topics covered will include when and why to speak up, knowing your audience, general principles for dealing with theistic arguments, and how to get attention.

Russell Glasser received an MS degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Texas. Russell is a lifelong atheist, and has been a member of the Atheist Community of Austin since 1999. During that time, he has been producer, host, and co-host on “The Atheist Experience,” a founding member of “The Non-Prophets,” and a co-creator of the wiki site with Matt Dillahunty. Russell is also a prolific contributor to the online atheist community. He has been blogging on religious and political topics since 2005 on both his personal blog, “Kazim’s Korner” and the Atheist Experience blog.

I am working on the assumption that somebody (usually Don) will record the lecture so we can post it on Google Video or something later. I am also working on a Power Point presentation that I will post after the lecture.

For more information on this and other monthly lectures, please visit the ACA lecture series page. This should be fun, hope to see you all there.