Helen guest authored a great post whilst I was away end of last week, she asked a great question that generated some fascinating discussion. I've had time to read the comments, and if I may, I want to use it as a springboard to ask some questions about the nature of reading/reflection around our convictions and those by people outside them, that the discussion left in my mind. I've used the comments to ask some questions broadly, about the nature of interacting with 'others'.
1. Is outside representation wrong? I am convinced that if you want to know about Buddhism, you need to read and interact with Buddhists! The notion that a Christian has nothing to learn, or find out from Buddhism is seriously flawed too for lots of reasons. But is it wrong to rely on Christians to give perspective on others? By that I mean that for me Jesus is the basis of my life, and my orientation, and whilst I read books and articles by people outside my faith, I do rely on others who know more than me to understand those views from a Christian perspective. Is that wrong?
There is always the danger of self-referencing to hear from people what we want to hear, but for real dialogue surely I need to hear from outside and from people within my convictions, and then my own reflections. A community of dialogue between self, peers, and â€˜othersâ€™.
Within secular rationalism it seems far easier to be a non-Christian, see all Christians as biased, and assume we can read others independently, when in fact we are often engaging in the same self-referencing system as Christians. By way of example, the method just outlined would mean that an atheist wouldn't just read Dwakins, to hear what they already believe, but would be open to read books by Christians on Dwakins. It seems too easy in reaction to Christian self-referencing to dismiss anything Christianâ€™s say about anotherâ€™s perspective.
2. Help? Do I need help to read a text? The notion of the self sufficient text reader, 'I just read it as it is' free from people who have convictions about the text is what got Christians into trouble, believing they could read the bible with no need to hear from anyone else, including non Christians (yes I do believe I can read the bible on my own, but not all the time!). Yet we can do the same within other faith traditions, and I count atheism as a religious faith system. For example if I'm an atheist, therefore I can read books by other faiths and books about my convictions with no reference to others, in fact my lack of religious beliefs (despite my faith in rational secularism, and naturalism) deceives me into thinking I can read a text better than someone of religious faith.
I know I need help reading texts, from people who are good navigators.
3. Self Referencing: I mentioned this in no.1 but I had some more thoughts and questions about it. We always try to find people to support our belief processes, no matter how noble and open we think we are. If I leave religious fundamentalism, I will see non fundamentalists as kinder and nicer, and more open to better text readings, and if I am an ex Christian I will see non Christians/Atheists as having a better perspective, and then if I convert to Christianity I will see Christians as having the better perspective to see by. Self-referencing is impossible to avoid, whilst we might try to avoid the worst of it. Also if I am ex atheist, I can assume that other Christians who are ex atheist are best able to represent atheism accurately. Or if I am not a Christian, I can be convinced that it is non-Christians who represent a better perspective on Christianity.
I am a Christian, I believe Jesus is the reason for life and the basis of reality, and will (unless I transfer my faith to some other basis of reality, be it myself, or atheism) until the day I die, read myself, the world around, and others through that reference, and I actively seek to do so. Which leads me to my next question.
4. Conviction Is it wrong to read from conviction? If I believe I am reading with no convictions about others, then that is a conviction! Is it wrong for a Christian to read books by others, to learn more about their own faith? There seems to be a notion that an 'open' Christian would read with the purpose to suspend their faith views, as if they are biased in some incorrect way. Do non-Christians read texts, assuming they have to suspend their non-Christian convictions?
Certainly when I read Richard Dwakins, I did not see someone who was prepared to suspend his convictions to understand others, but someone prepared to trample of the beliefs of others with his beliefs (I have read books by atheists that ask my faith hard question, and do so in a much kinder and better manner, at least they were for me). And non-Christians will say it's because I don't want to hear his questions, which is all to easy for people within a belief system to say. Dwakins does not come from a neutral viewpoint trying to dispassionately help others, he comes from conviction trying to persuade other to his convictions.
But if Christian writes a book about the 'delusions' of atheism, they are seen as closed minded and ignorant more often than not, with their convictions seen as invalid. Which leads me into my last question area.
5. Brutal? Is it ok for non-Christians to write brutally about what they see as being wrong with Christians, or other faiths? Sometimes it seems the implication is that people of faith are avoiding facing the 'truth', and the truth is brutal. Yet does that work the other way around, can Christians be brutal in exposing the dangers of atheism, and the inconsistencies and lies of faith in the self, rationalism, materialism and naturalism? (Does that sentence sound too harsh from a Christian?) Is there a double standard in who and how strongly opinions can be aired?