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.