The Semantics of Doubt and Certainty

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

This post a few weeks ago by Mak had gotten me thinking about how people express their doubts about supernatural deities. Often, these are expressed in formulaic and standardized ways, to address the inevitable challenges that someone who disagrees might bring. I feel that this sometimes constrains how I discuss it, either because I just don’t want to deal with the hassle of ignorance or because I get fatigued just thinking about it.

Words matter, but they shouldn’t matter this much.
I don’t believe that deities exist for a whole host of reasons – too many to put in a single blog post. Let’s say I just go with the generic, “I don’t have any belief in deities.” It sounds simple, right? What it means is that I’m not convinced deities exist. This could be for any host of reasons I haven’t given yet. Entire conversations could happen around explanations of small parts of it. In itself, all it means is that I don’t believe in the existence of any deity whatsoever.

Despite this, the idea gets challenged to the point of absurdity. I’ve read rants about how unfair it is to say such a thing, diatribes recounting how absurd it is, and essays on how untrue it really is. It doesn’t matter that it’s one person’s opinion about how convincing evidence for deities is. No, mere expression has to be pounded out of existence.

Seeing justifications for phrasing things this way is equally disappointing. No exploration of why someone might find religion unpersuasive is provided. Conversations spiral down a predictable Internet drain.

I’m given a familiar sense of disappointment.
To be clear: it’s not really the fault of atheists that discussions about a lack of belief go the way they do. My disappointment stems from a familiar feeling I got when I was a Christian watching other Christians say the damnedest things. Deconverts and maybe some current Christians will know what I’m talking about. There was always this one person who would have a religious opinion on everything, and contradicting them would get a fiery response. Instead of causing a ruckus, everyone else would just smile and nod and wait to change the subject.

If someone told me I’d still be encountering this after having left the faith, I would have been crestfallen. One of the reasons I was able to stay away from church was because of this kind of behavior. What comes with it is the knowledge that the people who get belligerent aren’t even trying to have a conversation; they’re actively trying not to have one. Admitting that those without faith might have a point is seen as conceding that there is no point in believing whatsoever.

I don’t want my disappointment to be permanent.
I’ve let it keep me relatively quiet over the years. It’s gotten to the point where I censor what I say. While I understand that not every occasion is an occasion to talk about a lack of belief, it is something that’s important for people who are just now leaving the faith to do. There are a lot of unanswered questions that pop up, and there aren’t enough conversations that seek to answer them. Having these conversations is critical to creating places where people can decompress from faith instead of having to just keep quiet and move on.

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4 thoughts on “The Semantics of Doubt and Certainty

  1. I agree that simply talking about things seems to divided people into fierce camps. When I was much younger I remember many hours spent with friends talking about politics. No one got angry even if they disagreed. Many times we talked about not only candidates, but issues that were on the ballots. In boarding church school we kids in the group I hung with would often talk about the doctrines and stands of the church. We were disbelievers yet we all had our own ideas. In the military I spent hours with my roommates talking about the supernatural and other mystical topics. We never got angry.

    Now online there are so many trolls who get their joy out of just attacking others and any idea. They might not disagree , but their fun is to viciously attack everyone and every thing. I tried to talk to ColorStorm and then after several attempts I declared my thought he was a troll not a “true believer” and stopped having anything to do with him. He did not disagree with me on my assessment of him. So I do not read his comments nor do I give him a second of my time. On SOM, I told him when he started trying to push his views on me that he could comment and say what he liked but if he attacked anyone personally on my blog I would ban him. He never bothered to answer me nor did he ever comment on my blog again.

    The point I am trying to make is in the world of today firm boundaries need to be established to have a free conversation and exchange of ideas. I don’t mind if people disagree with me, but keep the disagreement on the things we are talking about. No personal attacks. So as to your point of the need to talk about religion and feelings on it, I think it is a great thing to do, but we have to make sure that those who simply go into hyper attack mode are shut down. People talking are fine but people who simply want to shout and intimidate others must be simply shut down, stopped. They are not worth the effort to engage them. SO if someone does go into attack mode, they forfeit their privilege to even be in the conversation. While you want to have a conversation, which is a great thing that you should be congratulated on wanting, you are under no obligation to suffer the obnoxious. They lose out because they refuse to engage in reasonable conversation.

    I wish you the very best S.B. and I know you can show your ideas far better than those who simply wish to shout down anyone who doesn’t agree with their ideas. You need not suffer them. Hugs

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