The monks at Belmont Abbey College knew »« The uses of commitment

What we talk about when we talk about woo

Eric asked, on the last thread,

When, say, Muslims say that, if we speak of their religion is such and such ways, they simply get angry and can’t see our point, what response do we give? For that’s what so many people have been saying about the new atheism. They’ve been calling it strident and shrill and things like that, and we’ve been accused of writing about religion in ways that simply offend the religious instead of engaging with them. Is there are clear way to make the distinction between the first point about taboo words, and the second about ways of expressing our distaste for, or our criticism of, certain ideas?

I had some related thoughts while these posts were gestating yesterday.

Part one is the thought that any discussion that features claims or assumptions that people of a particular type or group are inherently inferior is not going to remain on the level of reasoned inquiry, at least not if the people in that group are part of the discussion. (That’s one reason ingroups can be so sinister.) Reasoned inquiry is easier when you’re talking about something that doesn’t make you the fool or the loser or the subordinate or the horrible female genitalia. Ben Radford’s article wouldn’t have drawn such heat if it had been about the Loch Ness monster.

Or would it? What if there are people whose New Age or “alternative” beliefs feel like commitments and part of their identity?

Well there are such people, and there are also their cousins who are that way about their religious beliefs. So actually articles about whacked beliefs can draw a lot of heat, and can make people feel very outraged.

That’s a kind of category mistake, in my view, because beliefs aren’t actually a matter of identity and shouldn’t be treated as if they were.

That’s one way to make the distinction that Eric asks about, but it won’t be as satisfactory to people who do think of their beliefs as their identity as it may be to us. Then again, we could always undertake to avoid epithets when discussing their beliefs. Could I do that? Hmm…would I have to abandon the word “woo”? I’m not sure I could manage that.

 

Comments

  1. says

    On some level, isn’t it a difference between what you do and what you are? And then keeping the criticism focused on the activity rather than the person?

    I mean, if you’re interested in being polite and engaging, rather than just clubbing people over the head. My skills lie in the second, so I’m not sure if I’m really able to helpful with the first.

  2. Beth says

    the thought that any discussion that features claims or assumptions that people of a particular type or group are inherently inferior is not going to remain on the level of reasoned inquiry, at least not if the people in that group are part of the discussion.

    Actually, this idea – that religious believers are inferior to non-believers – is a fairly common assumption on predominately atheist sites such as this one. I think it is the reason that the gnu’s have gotten so much pushback on their tone even when they aren’t using terms like ‘creotards’ or ‘faithiests’.

    It’s a problem for atheists who wish to ally with believers to accomplish social and/or political goals. A shared goal might be something like reducing sexism in our society. This is a goal shared by many believers and clearly, it isn’t shared by all atheists.

    As far as the word ‘woo’ goes, it’s a word I would no more consider using to describe a person than I would ‘nigger’ or ‘cunt’.

  3. Kevin says

    It’s always difficult to distinguish between belief and believer — especially when the believer is a sniveling whiny creationist toad.

    However, I find that when I stick to the belief and the reasons why it is false that I have more-productive exchanges. They’re also faster, since the opponent usually can only stand a post or two of logic before their heads explode and they go off an a rant. Thereby exposing their arguments as being empty.

    Win-win.

  4. Natalie says

    A belief or set of ideas can and should change, and are fair game for criticism. MUST be fair game for criticism.

    Someone’s sex, gender, race, orientation, level of ability and so forth, on the other hand…. not exactly a malleable aspect of who you are and not really a fair or justifiable thing to hold in contempt.

  5. sandiseattle says

    ‘woo’ as a term was first introduced to me via JREF and James Randi’s Swift articles. in the beginning he seemed to be using it as less of a catch-all term that it seems to have become now. New Age, homeopathy, and what he called ‘pseudo-science’ seemed to be the range. Now it seems to be used as meaning ‘anything skeptics are skeptical about.’ I’m not saying don’t use the word, mind you.

  6. says

    Plus there’s a whole lot of issue about what we’re using our words for. If we’re speaking out against injustice and cruelty caused by religion, I think we can be excused if we fail to add caveats and weasel words in order to soothe the feelings of religious people… especially since I think that being religious makes you somewhat complicit in your religion’s faults. I’m nearly 103% sure that calling someone a “cunt” doesn’t fall in the same category, at all.

    It is sort of like kids on the intertubes get the meaning of ad hominem wrong all the time. “Insult” is different from “insult as argument” is different from “insult plus argument” is different from “argument with conclusions that you find insulting.”

  7. says

    Beth:

    In my experience “woo” (or “woo-woo”) is not used to describe a person, but a belief or practice. I would draw a distinction between the person and the belief/practice, and I would feel quite comfortable saying that an astrologer, anti-vaxer, psychic, or astral projector is a “purveyor of woo”. I don’t see the offensiveness of the term, but I am certainly open to being convinced otherwise. (On the other hand, I would never use the word “creo-tard”, not because I wish to spare the feelings of creationists, but because, as a construction based on “retard”, it is offensive and insulting to intellectually disabled people”.)

  8. says

    Good grief — are we really proposing being *polite* on the internet? Can’t have that! Anyone who suggests such things should be instantly dismissed as a tone troll. (Unfortunately, that’s only a slight exaggeration of the attitude of quite a number of people).

    A long time ago, I came up with the following list of progressive levels of rhetorical heat:

    1) You’re wrong about X because of: {present evidence and arguments}
    2) X is stupid….
    3)….and so are you (frequently: ….and also ugly, lacking in personal hygiene and engaging in disgusting sexual practices).

    One should always be prepared to do Level 1, and any opponent who can’t handle that shouldn’t be taken seriously. There’s nothing inherently wrong with turning it up to Level 2 or even 3, but this should be a *tactical* decision, not an automatic setting. If you want my attention, you have to make it worth investing my single most important non-renewable resource, namely my time, in the discussion, and if you make the experience sufficiently unpleasant, I’m under no obligation to continue giving you more of it.

    “The God Delusion” as a book title is in Level 2 range. I have a Christian friend, who is not usually averse to controversy, who objected to it as insulting. I think she was being tone-trollish on that — it’s appropriate that a book on a controversial subject make its central point, provocatively, right on the cover.

    Level 3 is basically the nuclear option: intelligent discussion is over, one’s opponent is henceforth but a rhetorical punching bag. In my Usenet days, when I found myself tempted to go there, I took it as an indication to go find some other thread to read. Shakespeare and Cyrano showed that insult can be an art form, but it’s not one I have a talent for.

  9. says

    What Natalie said @7.

    There is a difference when it comes to personal attributes over which one exercises choice (religious belief is probably the best example of this, and has more salience than other instances of the same thing, like fashion sense or choice of major or hairstyle or whatever) and attributes over which one has no control (being black, being female, being gay etc). I avoid vulgarities (my principle objection to some of the smellier arguments by certain participants in recent skeptical/atheist stoushes), but, like Ophelia, I too would have a hard time abandoning the term ‘woo’.

    That said, I do tend to use it to describe anti-vax, homeopathy, etc – so maybe that just reflects Randi’s original coinage.

  10. says

    But gnus know we are being rude, strident, shrill, whatever toward theism. We hear it from them all the time, and we love it because it gives us a platform on which to contrast our rudeness with theirs. It’s intentional on our part against theism and supernaturalism. We have chosen to not play accommodationist because we are going up against false ideas and harmful ideas and badly thought out ideas. It’s a form of education, and like the student who would rather the teacher be fired than learn (see PZ’s blog today), of course entrenched theists will be aggravated or distressed by it. That is a very real side effect. We are breaking taboos surrounding pet theories (often ancient pet theories). We haven’t ever been under any other impression about what we do.

    (I’m having a really hard time seeing how Radford’s article fits in with this. He wrote something that was wrong on several levels and got called on it and doubled down instead of doing something more thoughtful. If he had written about Nessie being real, he’d be getting just as much flak about it, especially if he stuck to it despite valid criticism.)

    I don’t believe the average gnu thinks religious people as people are inherently inferior. Maybe the obvious charlatans and powerbrokers, sure, but far too many of us have been religious ourselves for us to be so haughty as to pronounce that one who believes is inferior to us. Their current thinking is inferior, yes, but not the people themselves.

  11. says

    Thanks Ophelia for the thread, and for #3, and to Beth for #2.

    I prefer to avoid terms like ‘woo’ because I think they are too imprecise. “Woo’ can mean anything I disagree with, anything I am not into, or something I don’t understand. It is in short a dismissive term. The inferiority/superiority dichotomy is none the less important to deal with, but how? That’s the question. Few people enjoy being looked down upon, and as soon as they get the idea that someone regards them as inferior, their hackles generally rise. Yet something like ‘The God Delusion’ is a perfectly valid title for a book, even if it says straight away that the author believes that religious believers have a serious glitch in their reality.

    A core problem is that all religions (well, the ones I know a bit about) encourage their followers to believe they are superior. There’s the saved and the damned, believers vs infidels, chosen vs unchosen, enlightened vs still in the dark, etc, etc. Meanwhile, those who have lived since childhood in the thrall of a priesthood and have managed to liberate themselves from it likewise feel enlightened. And are often prepared to say so.

    A person’s religion or lack of it is an important definer of their identity, both to themselves and others. It is also very unsettling for someone to lose their security blanket. That is why I personally never go full on at someone who seeks to convert me personally to their belief. There are many levels to the game.

    But it’s a balancing act. I am totally and openly opposed to all theocracies.

  12. says

    Hi Natalie,

    Someone’s sex, gender, race, orientation, level of ability and so forth, on the other hand…. not exactly a malleable aspect of who you are and not really a fair or justifiable thing to hold in contempt.

    I’m not sure if this is what you meant, but it’s not clear to me that malleability is a good criterion for distinguishing between what could be fair to hold in contempt. Some people in the transgendered community, for instance, will switch genders based on social context. e.g., I had a former professor who would dress up in drag during some classes, and even has an alternative name for his female self. Is it possible to justify holding them in contempt for that reason? I’m inclined to say no.

    I’d rather draw the line in this way. People commit to certain self-images. Many of those commitments generate a sense of entitlement, an assumption that their self-image will be accepted and vindicated by other people. Of course, if those beliefs are illusions or delusions (like New Age stuff), then that sense of entitlement is bogus, and is not worthy of your trust. But it seems to me that so long as those commitments aren’t delusions or illusions, they are generally worthy of respect.

  13. Irene Delse says

    Ben Radford’s article wouldn’t have drawn such heat if it had been about the Loch Ness monster.

    Or would it? What if there are people whose New Age or “alternative” beliefs feel like commitments and part of their identity?

    Case in point, the long and acrimonious controversy between Alex Tsakiris from Skeptico, on the one hand, and Ben Radford and other sceptics, on the other, on the topic of paranormal research. There was recently a debate on Skepticality featuring Radford and Tsakiris. It’s two hours long, but worth listening to at least in part to see how someone can get so emotionally invested in things like precognition, “global consciousness”, psychic detectives and even psychic dogs.

    http://www.skepticality.com/tipping-point/

  14. baal says

    I’ve only seen “woo” used to refer to supernatural or paranormal beliefs and it’s usage really comes across as mild and as atheist jargon. As it refers to a range of stuff, some of it cross-contradictory, anyone taking objection to ‘woo’ would be mis-reading it or have magic as part of their identity. In either case, the offense is on them and not on the person using “woo.”

    I admit to having a chip-on-my-shoulder about being mild enough to not offend the religious. Their offense-o-meters are hyper-sensitive. The atheist then has the burden of re-framing and apologizing and otherwise bending over backwards in order to even start to make a point. That’s unfair.

    I think theists need to be called on their over-sensitiveness. If they have a legitimate specific point, great let’s hear it at the time but the blanket rejection of atheists as ‘rude’ is a meme we need to push back on.

  15. Beth says

    Ophelia: No. That did not come across to me as the point of this post.

    Theo: My experience is that it is used as a catch-all derrogatory term for both people and ideas. For example, from a post earlier today on JREF “his current wife, Becky (a woo beyond compare)”.

    Skepticlawyer: The impression I get from many atheists, particularly folks like PZ, is that they consider believers mentally inferior. Honestly, I’m not sure how a person could think that a group of people have inferior thinking without also thinking that they are inferior as people. At least, the latter is how their message comes across. Sort of like people who say ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ usually come across as hating both.

    Also, I’m not sure what you mean by the phrase “the obvious charlatans and powerbrokers” in this context. Do you mean that the charlatans and powerbrokers of the atheist movement feel that way about religious believers? It reads to me like that, but I’m not sure that’s what you meant to write.

  16. says

    Also, I’m not sure what you mean by the phrase “the obvious charlatans and powerbrokers” in this context.

    That came from Aratina, not me, and I suspect (although Aratina will be able to clarify) was a reference to people like John Edward or Benny Hinn, who at the very least were parting people from considerable sums of money on spurious bases…

  17. says

    @Ian MacDougall: It’s hard for me to imagine the use of “woo” being harsher than saying that someone’s most cherished beliefs are a “delusion”, with the implication that the person that holds them is “delusional”. (I do not personally object to the use of either term, and agree with Eamon’s tone-troll characterization of our mutual Christian friend.)

  18. Natalie says

    Benjamin, @15-

    Trans people actually DON’T switch genders. Our gender, being the “between the ears” part, not the “between the legs” part, is a constant and, as said, is not malleable. We simply modify our bodies to be in accordance with that gender. I’m not a man who became a woman. I’m a trans woman, always was, and always will be. I really don’t think we can be used as a counter-example here.

    The main point is that beliefs and ideas NEED to be held up to criticism and critique, and they NEED to be able to change and adapt. Whereas the aspects of identity towards which we consider epithets taboo are innate aspects of ourselves that we have minimal, if any, control over.

  19. Natalie says

    P.S. Cross-dressers and drag queens will switch presentation from time to time, but the underlying identity of CD or DQ will remain a constant.

  20. says

    @Beth

    The impression I get from many atheists, particularly folks like PZ, is that they consider believers mentally inferior.

    Are you talking about Ken Ham or some other fraud like that? If not, then you have the wrong impression.

  21. says

    @Beth

    At least, the latter is how their message comes across. Sort of like people who say ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ usually come across as hating both.

    This is ridiculous. Does correcting a person about an error in thinking equate to love the error, hate the error? These people are wrong about reality. It has nothing to do with loving them or hating them. Of course, when they actually do things that are detrimental to the peace and happiness of others, then they are not good people. “Love the sin, hate the sinner” is based on the concept of sin which is a religious concept and as false as the rest of their concepts about reality. There is no sin and no sinners. That kind of crap doesn’t truck with atheists.

  22. karmakin says

    I don’t usually like discussions of tone, because generally I think that content is much more important than tone, really, which is fine because i don’t think this is largely about tone. I like the way that Eamon puts it in #11 in a sort of sliding scale. That makes a lot of sense to me. Most religion, specifically Christianity itself, is solidly in the #3 camp. Not all of its believers are, of course, (most are probably #2) but it’s VERY difficult to not be a 3. And because Christianity is at its core a 3 religion, generally speaking they’ve already set the boundaries on what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, for better or for worse, and often we go to the level of 3 as well without too much concern about it.

    Should offense be some sort of neutrally judged thing, or is it something that should be judged in the eyes of the potentially offended party, or a mixture of the two? I think that’s the really tricky question here. To say it should be neutrally judged, I think opens the door to all sorts of concern trolling and other nuttery, but at the same time to say that it’s strictly in the eyes of the offended party means that maybe we should all just shut up about our atheism (something that speaking for myself I’m not willing to do).

    Is it a matter of utilitarian best practices? Probably. This is where I generally stand. The problem is that this opens the door to tons of conflict. Which is probably unavoidable, of course.

    I’ll be honest. I don’t take the path of some other people that all woo is bad woo. I understand the argument, and I find it somewhat compelling, but in the end I lean slightly against it. Yes, woo can be patternistic, where less bad woo leads to more bad woo. But I don’t feel that this is enough of a strong enough pattern to condemn it in and of itself. So things such as believing in Bigfoot simply don’t bother me all that much. It’s just not an issue. For me things such as theistic, authoritarian and patriarchal patterns (often the exact same thing) are much more important.

  23. says

    Of course.

    I have to confess being ignorant of this particular professor’s robust self-concept. They’re a cross-dresser, and (at least sometimes) self-identifies as a male. But they are also self-described as transgendered, publishes regularly on the subject, and has a definite female alter-ego with a separate name and profile. Here’s a quote that might help give you a sense of their character: “I have been a cross-dresser since I was little. For me, it is an expression of my feminine side, a declaration of my anima strength, and an awareness of how holistic we all truly are. However, while I know that I cross-dress, I have no real idea of why I cross-dress. I simply know that I do.” And when profiled in interview, this professor is designated with either the masculine or feminine pronoun, depending on context.

    So you might be right, and that they are really a ‘he’, deep down. (Or they might be two-spirited, I suppose.) But if all the evidence indicates that a person’s gender is variable, then from my perspective it seems besides the point whether or not their self-concept is malleable or entrenched. It seems to me that when this professor says ‘this is the way I am’, since I have no evidence to venture a contrary opinion, and not much vested interest in the form of identity that is at stake, I should defer to them.

    Of course, I agree that ideas need to be held up to criticism. In particular, illusions need to be held up to scrutiny. I just wonder how you’d respond to this case — whether you think this is a case of a man who is suffering under illusions, for instance.

  24. says

    Ben @ 17 – no no, you’re quite right, that’s not what I meant. Just that the post overall was about the kind of thing Beth was talking about.

    Beth @ 19 – well then you weren’t paying attention.

  25. says

    Aratina @ 13 –

    (I’m having a really hard time seeing how Radford’s article fits in with this. He wrote something that was wrong on several levels and got called on it and doubled down instead of doing something more thoughtful. If he had written about Nessie being real, he’d be getting just as much flak about it, especially if he stuck to it despite valid criticism.)

    But would it be possible to be wrong about Nessie on as many levels? I think that’s what the difference is. There are just more levels when it comes to sexism, marketing, social pressure, history…and so on; see what I mean? Nessie doesn’t have that many layers.

  26. says

    Irene @ 16 – oh god Alex Tsakiris. He did a podcast with me once. I thought he was the real Skeptico, so of course I was taken aback when he started blathering about life after death and the rest of it. Afterward he doctored the podcast and put it online. What a shit he is, and pompous with it.

  27. says

    Does correcting a person about an error in thinking equate to love the error, hate the error?

    I meant “love the errorist, hate the error?” I was thinking of one who makes errors as an error, which is an error.

  28. Natalie says

    @Benjamin

    Right, but this professor is saying “this is the way I am” and including innate aspects of identity: CD, transgender, etc.

    Therefore there is a constant, innate, non-variable identity at play, even if superficial presentation may vary, and even if the identity contains multiple iterations. It’s multiple iteratability (is that a word?) would itself be a non-malleable constant.

    I doubt anything in the world could eliminate the CD / transgender element from that professor’s identity, or change who they are, and even when they’re presenting as male (or female) as the case may be, that aspect of their identity is still there, it’s just on the surface at the moment.

    Which still contrasts strongly with beliefs, which, as said, need to be open to change.

  29. sumdum says

    I’d say always avoid ad hominem arguments, but when you attack the argument, go as ‘strident’ as you like.

  30. sandiseattle says

    @ Beth re:PZ
    I wouldn’t go so far as to say PZ thinks theists are mentally inferior. He does point to the stupid things they say and mocks (or even corrects) those things.

  31. Josh Slocum says

    Honestly, I’m not sure how a person could think that a group of people have inferior thinking without also thinking that they are inferior as people.

    Beth – that was an incredibly foolish thing to say. I think it’s wrong, and I think you’d agree it’s obviously wrong if you step back and apply to another subject. Say, politics. I think conservative Republicans believe a lot of stupid and dangerous shit. I think their thinking is “inferior” if you like. But I don’t necessarily think of them as “inferior human beings,” if by that you mean some kind of sinister ubermensch bogeyman.

    Surely you see that. Surely you see that just because I think you said something that was, well, pretty dumb, that doesn’t mean I think you’re “inferior.” Actually, it’s hard to say because I don’t even know what you mean when you use that word. You seem to sloppily equate it with some-very-bad-kind-of-judgmentalism-that’s-beyond-the-pale. Not much to go on.

  32. says

    But would it be possible to be wrong about Nessie on as many levels? I think that’s what the difference is. There are just more levels when it comes to sexism, marketing, social pressure, history…and so on; see what I mean? Nessie doesn’t have that many layers.

    Ah yes, I think I see it now. It has more to do with why Radford was able to freely publish what he did in the first place, and then the response about how the organization he published it under won’t endorse it but they will stand by their publishing of it when we all know they wouldn’t publish anti-vaxx nonsense or creationist propaganda (though I could see them publishing a pro-Bigfoot article). But if it’s about women, anything goes it seems. And why is this so? And is that OK? I hope I got that all right.

  33. says

    Oh well to be fair it’s a blog. They don’t vet the blogs. I don’t think we can conclude that anyone agreed with Radford’s post or thought it was good stuff just because it appeared.

  34. Josh Slocum says

    Then again, we could always undertake to avoid epithets when discussing their beliefs. Could I do that? Hmm…would I have to abandon the word “woo”? I’m not sure I could manage that.

    Trouble is (as you know) that those with a vested interest in deflecting criticism by trying to position the critic as out of bounds will stretch the definition of epithet until it shrieks. Any criticism—anything at all—-can and will be called rude, outrageous, a “personal attack.” Its the phenomenon we see when religious people go apoplectic about how “hateful” atheists are for putting up a billboard with a mild message such as “Are you good without God? So are we.” A more disgusting and increasingly common manifestation is actual bigots accusing the now-refusing-to-take-it victims of perpetrating bigotry when they call out, well, bigotry.

    It’s a losing game, and I won’t cede the use of epithets, snark, or ridicule to the heckler’s veto. Note that I’m emphatically not saying there aren’t personally-directed epithets that are counter-productive and just plain mean. There are also contexts in which using epithets to describe beliefs won’t help your cause and will provoke retrenchment. There’s no calculation that will work in every case. But I think the scope of epithets-that-must-not-be-used is far narrower than the illegitimately aggrieved are trying to make it.

  35. SallyStrange, FemBrain in a FemBadge (Bigger on the Inside!) says

    It wasn’t so long ago that PZ specifically stated something along the lines of:

    “I don’t think I’m better than anyone. I just think I’m right.”

    I would add, “Right about this particular issue.”

  36. abb3w says

    Anything humans attach the pronoun “my” to arguably involves a degree of extension of one’s identity — my arm, my mother, my money. Ergo, any time anyone says “my belief”, belief becomes part of identity. In fact, it would seem beliefs — particularly memories (a belief “this happened to me”) — are one of the most fundamental aspects of what humans think of as identity as a person.

    For an excellent piece of “light” SF entertainment on pronouns and identity, see Larry Niven’s short story Grammar Lesson; the other short stories in the Draco Tavern collection also often make for interesting freethinker “parables”. (Since ideas are non-rival goods, and Niven’s examples for intrinsic, extrinsic, and relational pronouns are all for rival goods, the chirpsithtra pronoun for “my idea” might involve yet a fourth type of pronoun.)

  37. says

    Theo @#21;

    ‘It’s hard for me to imagine the use of “woo” being harsher than saying that someone’s most cherished beliefs are a “delusion”’

    Yes, good point. But ‘delusion’ is more specific, and therefore is more subject to examination. ‘Woo’ as a word is like ‘spin’. It can mean anything. So I avoid ‘spin’ too.

  38. Bruce Gorton says

    Woo is essentially a category of beliefs maintained by the idea that daring to call wrong things wrong, is equivelant to the belief that the people who believed the wrong thing are stupid and thus intolerant and shrill and all those nasty things.

    That idea is generally spread by assholes who prioritise their own egos above real world harms.

    Woo takes the warning labels off of bad beliefs and makes sure that when someone hears an idea and says “Why not?” they don’t get any of the multitude good answers to that question.

    Today is of course a day in which I put up a story about a Vietnamese restaurant being caught boiling a tiger as an alternative to Asparin, so my view on the subject may be tainted.

  39. David says

    I always thought of “woo” as basically the non harmful wrong beliefs like bigfoot or Nessie its been applied to homeopathy which can sometimes be non-harmful, but woo is too mild to be applied to things that do real harm to real people.

  40. says

    Came to this a bit late, I’m afraid, and in the midst of other things. However, there is a difference between sexist epithets and stern criticisms of the beliefs of other people, as you point out, especially beliefs which come to be identified by people as a part of their own personal identity. This is precisely why religion is a conversation stopper, because, once you take a belief and make it a part of personal identity which cannot be questioned without offence, that belief has been removed from rational discussion. But the importance of questioning our beliefs is still a valid reason for questioning even beliefs that are personal identity related, because such beliefs also become intrusive in the lives of others, and can’t help but become so. In fact, part of the reason for holding such beliefs in that way is to place everyone else under the category “Wrong.” And that’s why religion or any other identity-producing ideologies are so dangerous, because, not only do they claim the right to intrude in the private spaces of other people, they implicitly include the denial of that privilege to others. And just becasue a belief is flaky and wooish doesn’t make it any more intrusive in that respect, as I have found out to my cost in relation to my brother (or ex-brother, or whatever).

  41. says

    “especially beliefs which come to be identified by people as a part of their own personal identity.”

    Josh Rosenau has been sneering at me on Twitter for claiming that beliefs are not a matter of identity. He says someone born in England who becomes an atheist is still an Anglican. Srsly.

  42. Steersman says

    That’s a kind of category mistake, in my view, because beliefs aren’t actually a matter of identity and shouldn’t be treated as if they were.

    Absolutely; exactly right.

    As I have argued elsewhere – not too successfully which is probably not surprising given the religious commitments of my interlocutors (which justifies some “rudeness”, so to speak) – there is a very great difference between respecting a person’s beliefs and their right to have them.

    And a conflation of those two is, I would argue, tantamount to a demand to accept those beliefs which is a very large step onto the slippery slope to fascism of many types, including feminist and theocratic.

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