The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Intellectual conversations are so rare and beautiful. It's great to connect with someone you just met on a deeper level, especially if they recognize and can add to your sentiments. Religion seems to be the most common topic, especially how hypocritical people can be about it without even realizing it. For instance, it's perfectly acceptable for a non-Christian to tell a Christian that they're wrong, but offensive for the situation to be reversed. And when you're talking about beliefs, *everything* is offensive unless you preface it with the obligatory phrase, "I believe..." or "According to my religion..." or "[insert religion] says..." And yet, whenever you're talking about beliefs, if you're not in agreement with someone else, aren't you *saying* they're wrong anyway? For instance, if you are agnostic and talking with a Christian, and you say "I don't believe that", isn't that as good as saying that the Christian is wrong? And if the Christian says to the agnostic, "I don't believe that", it's somehow less offensive than if the Christian were to outwardly say "You are wrong" rather than "My beliefs state that you are wrong." It's almost like shoving the offense over to the entity named "belief" where it can be neutralized, since no one can be angry or offended by this intangible, abstract concept named "belief". Who is "belief" and why are we so apt to shove the responsibility of telling the unpleasant truth to her, forcing her to stand up for herself rather than us doing it for her? When we don't stand up for our "belief" to avoid unpleasantries and offenses, we become an observer on the sidelines rather than someone actually claiming possession of her. We distance ourself from "Belief", making her a concept, an idea, one that can be easily and courteously ignored or disregarded. It is when we truly claim our "Belief" and personify them in ourselves; when we say not "I belive this is true" but "This *is* true!" that we are in fact owning our beliefs and making them real within us. Unfortunately, this is also the point at which we become truly, disgustingly offensive to atheists, agnostics, wiccans, and anyone else with a dissenting opinion (and doubtless a long history of bitterness towards Christians, who tend to not make themselves the most likeable people sometimes). I suppose what I'm saying is, when you use the phrase "I believe" before stating your case, instead of speaking as though it is the unequivocal truth, you are disclaiming your own beliefs, and stealing their validity. This, in turn, offends others because you are blatantly stating their incorrectness; but isn't it already implied by your dissent? The language we use is often laden with subterfuge we had never considered, and what keeps us from saying what we mean is our fear of being impolite, which only reflects badly on us and our religion. Thus, we arrive at a paradox: Use pleasant language that detracts from the validity and credibility of what you believe, or present your beliefs in their true, pure form and risk alienating the other party. What can we do to escape this paradox? Understand it. Recognize that the other party is in the same boat as you; that is, probably do not want to offend you but feel the need to express the truthfullness that they *do* believe what they believe. Don't get offended at choice of words or modes of language. Recognize that when someone believes something, they'll state it as a truth, and you have a right to do the same. Don't get angry. Seriously. Anger in a religious discussion is entirely counterproductive. Look for understanding, and discuss the concepts as though they were real (since they are) and not some line of text in a book. Go forth and progress.

Was that preachy enough for you? Sorry, but when I get going, it's hard to stop. This truth was illuminated to me today and caught me by surprise, I had to exercise as many concepts and lessons from it as possible; though I do still believe in the validity of the above statement. Think about it and try it in your next discussion, just make sure the other party knows that your intention is not to offend, but effectively communicate. The hardest part is to keep your cool. ;)

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