Thursday, February 26, 2009

Agree to Disagree

My friend and I got together last Thursday evening and discussed what had happened between us and where our friendship should go from here. We spoke for a little over two hours and thus I'm not going to go into every little detail here. We actually did discuss religion and science a little bit although I wasn't intending too. We only discussed it where absolutely necessary to clarify a viewpoint. There were some moments where each of us became a little emotional. So here's what happened...

She Said
I asked her to start by telling me how she felt about everything. She explained to me that she was upset that I was so consistently "negative" about her beliefs. (I wasn't meaning to be negative, I was just skeptical). She was upset that nearly all of the questions I asked and remarks I made were in this light. In one of my e-mails I said something to the effect of "I don't mention the positive things because we already agree there, so there's not much to discuss". In hindsight, I think that was a mistake on my part. When I went to church with her she asked me what I thought of it and I started by telling her the things that I agree with before getting into the things that I disagree with. I should have tried to be more like that throughout the entire discussion, though it was difficult for me to agree with events that were said to have taken place nearly 2000 years ago. I could have at least agreed on some of the principals taught in the bible, because I do agree with a good number of those. She also said that she arrived at the (false) impression that I was having "fun" with her, pointing out contentious issues about her faith. I told her that absolutely was not the case and that I never at any point intended to upset her.

So throughout my "negative" questioning of her faith for several weeks, she was getting more and more upset about it. The day of our falling out she was at work (where she often has to deal with many rude people) and it was a combination of what I said at that moment, the ongoing negativity, and what was going on at work that caused her to have the outburst that she did. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was somewhat relieved to hear all that, because she reacted in a way that totally shocked me and I didn't understand. Because she had all that pent up frustration towards me, it makes much more sense that she acted the way that she did. So then I asked her why didn't she let me know how she felt before this event happened. She said it was a flaw in her personality to hide those sorts of feelings, which I can perfectly understand because I used to be the same way. So we both agreed that that was something that she should have done.

One of the things that she said that somewhat surprised me was that she was more upset at my follow-up e-mail the night after the falling out. I had carefully crafted that e-mail to try and be as sensitive as possible and to explain why I had said the things I did, and I even gave her an example of how my thought process works. Particularly, she was upset because I said in that e-mail that I was disappointed that she never asked me any questions. I wanted her to ask me questions so that she could better understand where I was coming from and thus better be able to communicate how she thought and felt to me. She told me that she simply didn't have any questions, as there is no "doctrine" of atheism to question and I had been telling her how I felt through our discussions as well. I do find it a little strange that she had absolutely no questions for me at all and part of me thinks that our discussions would have gone better if she did ask me questions, but its too late for that now. I also still don't really understand how my saying that I was disappointed she never asked me any questions could make her upset.

He Said
Then it was my turn to talk. I told her how I felt sad because there were now things that we could not share together. I explained how some of her beliefs actually hurt me (like how she thinks I'm going to hell) and that I had been fine up until now because I was at least able to talk to her about them. I told her my opinion that some of her beliefs that she holds are actually detrimental to the well-being of herself and those around her. (For example, the statement "I would kill children for God" and "Evolution is just a theory"). I also told her that I had been writing to this blog for the last month about all of these things and I also talked about calling in to the Atheist Experience TV show and talking about our falling out. I told her how to find the blog and video clips in case she was ever interested in reading/watching them.

Then I presented her with a couple of analogies. Both analogies were to illustrate to her how I feel. The first was a role-reversal analogy where I was convinced that eating a diet full of trans fats and sugars was healthy for you and she was trying to convince me that it was not. The second was where I contracted a horrible disease but refused to see a doctor because I didn't trust doctors, and instead asked for a carpenter to give me medical advice. Both analogies were used to explain to her the fallacies of relying on a non-scientist like Carl Baugh (a creationist "scientist" who I've mentioned before) to explain science to her. Fortunately, what I found out was that my perception of her infatuation with Carl Baugh and his Creation Evidence Museum was not an infatuation at all. During our discussions, she had recalled hearing about him once and noticed that he had some "science-like" explanations on his site, so without looking at them too deeply herself she had referred me to them for an explanation. So she wasn't apologetic towards him at all and didn't necessarily believe that what he said was the truth, which made me breathe a deep sigh of relief because her acceptance of his pseudoscience that I had falsely perceived was probably the issue that I was most upset about.

The other major issue I had been upset about was her willingness to do anything for God, regardless of how immoral it would be otherwise. I explained to her just how sick it makes me feel when I recall her saying she would murder children if asked by God, and I told her I hoped that she could understand why I feel that way. She pointed out that it was highly unlikely that that would ever happen and I immediately agreed her, but pointed out that we agreed on that for different reasons. I agreed because I don't think God exists, and she agreed because she thinks God is a wonderful being. That led us to discuss the bible a little bit, and I pointed out to her again that God does murder children (and nearly the entire world) so if the bible is accurate and true, then it is not so unlikely that he would ask. I explained to her that as a person who had never read the bible and never believed in or perceived some sort of invisible all-powerful being, reading the bible is a rather horrifying experience. I asked her to try throwing out her preconceived notions of God and his greatness next time she reads the bible, and if she can do that she'll understand why I reacted towards it in the way that I did.

Philosophy of Thought
At one point my friend provided me with her own analogy asking how I would feel if she began questioning something about my life. She used exercise in her example because she knows that's something important to me. She asked "What if I told you I think you're dumb wasting all of your time with exercise, wouldn't that upset you?". But I told her no, it wouldn't upset me at all. In fact I'd like to hear more about why you or anyone would feel that way. And I think we realized then that this was the core of why our discussions went as badly as they did. We have different philosophies of thinking and understanding the truth.

In my philosophy, I like to look at everything and examine all viewpoints, arguments, and evidence. My beliefs are based on these things, but my beliefs are not permanent. If new valid evidence or a well-reasoned argument comes along, I will evaluate it and if necessary, change my beliefs accordingly. I do this because I want to hold as many true beliefs as possible, and hold as few false beliefs as possible. I think the best way to know the truth is to look at everything and continually analyze and evaluate things. And I feel I should never dogmatically hold myself to believing something as true. On the contrary, my friend has already decided what she believes is true. She is not interested in finding out about other arguments and evidence that may insert doubt into her beliefs. She doesn't want people to question her position, while on the contrary I do.

So I think this was the central problem between us. I was treating her in the same way that I would like to be treated by asking questions and looking at evidence that contradicts her stance. On the other hand, she was treating me in the same way that she would like to be treated by not questioning any of my positions. So I was frustrating her and she was frustrating me. Some of the people I had spoken too just prior before our meeting told me that we need to "agree to disagree", but I told them that I don't think I'm capable of that in this case. I'm sure that other people can't "agree to disagree" with others as well on topics that are important to them, such as racism (can you "agree to disagree" when you find out your friend is a member of the KKK?). My stance here is "I will agree to disagree if I understand why it is that you disagree with me". And I think I got my reason for why she disagreed with me because of our different philosophies of thought.

At least I can now understand why she would hold her beliefs with this philosophy. I think I have been around so many analytical thinkers (engineers/scientists) in the last few years that I forgot that there are people who think in different manners. I still do disagree with that philosophy of thought though. I feel that it is an absolutely horrible way to find out what is true. If you intentionally make yourself close-minded and don't look at outside opinions and evidence, how could you ever know whether or not you are right? I think I'll elaborate on truth and thought in a later post.

So after we both laid it all out, I brought up the question of whether or not our friendship should continue. (There are some other issues between us besides religion, but that's not interesting enough to share here). We decided that our friendship should continue, that we both want it continue, and that we won't revisit this topic. But I made sure to tell her before I left that I would be always willing to talk about anything with her, although if we decide to talk about this again in the future we should probably first talk about how we're going to talk about it...@_@

The discussion went much better than I thought it was going to. We also shared some casual conversation and had a few great laughs together during the discussion. I left feeling much better about the situation with my friend than I have felt in the past month. I only wish that we had this discussion much earlier.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home