Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ “interfaith dialogue”

Today’s Jesus and Mo shows why such dialogue is unlikely to succeed—at least if certain faiths are included:

2014-03-19In fact, I’m curious whether dialogue between atheists and religionists has ever been successful, or even what “successful” would mean in that context.

h/t: Linda Grilli


  1. Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Well, atheists and religionists have spoken to each other without any bloodshed…that’s gotta count for at least some measure of success….


  2. The Militant One
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Over the last several years, I have come to agree with Loring Prest that the only potentially productive conversation non-delusionals can have with delusionals is on the subject of epistemology. Anything else is completely futile.

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      Not completely. Once in a while you can show one of them where he’s wrong and he’ll come around. Takes time and patience though. The time issue is major in our fast moving world of quick comments and twits.

    • Posted March 21, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Are you sure? These days one runs into “presuppositionalism” and other nonsense, which is not worth talking about (since it amounts to radical skepticism).

  3. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    In fact, I’m curious whether dialogue between atheists and religionists has ever been successful, or even what “successful” would mean in that context.

    Yeah, I can’t imagine. Even the non-theistic religious assign fundamental importance to transcendent meaning. They may be happy to discuss what that means – hence interfaith – but to discuss whether it means anything? Uh, uh.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      The atheists who are welcomed into interfaith dialogues and considered a “success” are accomodationists. They have to be willing to do nothing more than describe their views as neutrally as possible and focus ONLY on what is positive about humanism and not what is negative about religion … with one major exception. The atheist is allowed and even encouraged to criticize the kinds of religions which don’t participate in interfaith dialogues. Extremists. “Bad” religions.

      Not like the “good” religions of the wonderful people at the table — people whom I’d never try to change because I respect their faith. It’s who you are. And … oh yeah … Richard Dawkins is just another fundamentalists.

      They love that. Eat it up with a spoon. Why can’t all atheists agree to live and let live like this?

      It’s successful if your definition of success doesn’t preclude throwing the more confrontational truth-focused atheists under the bus.

  4. Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you may not be aware of the background to this. Last week the BBC were filming a program called “Free speech”, which a Mosque had agreed to host. One of the questions asked (by a gay Muslim) was “When will it be OK to be Muslim and gay?”. The BBC presenter then pre-empted any discussion of this question, saying that the Mosque had expressed “deep concerns” about the question and thus they were not going to discuss it.

  5. Aldo Matteucci
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    n fact, I’m curious whether dialogue between atheists and religionists has ever been successful, or even what “successful” would mean in that context.

    No chance, in fact it’s counterproductive.
    You can only change mentalities, and that’s a subconscious, though very effective and often speedy process.

    Take the earlier post on income and religiosity. Money in the bank converts more people from religiosity to morality every day than zillions arguments.

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      I have seen successful atheist-theist dialog. It ended with one additional atheist in the world, and done fewer theist. Conversation need not be counterproductive, or a waste of time.

  6. Bruce Gregory
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    It depends on whether they are trying to convert each other or simply describing the way they make sense of the world.

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      Conversion is appropriate when someone holds invalid ideas. Our goal should always be to improve our thinking by exposing it to rational criticism. If I hold a stupid idea (and I fear I hold many) then I want someone to try to convert my confused thinking into clear understanding of the issue. No point to cluttering your noggin with nonsense.

      • Sastra
        Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

        I prefer to make a distinction between “religious conversion” and “rational persuasion.” When you convert someone the way religions do, you try to sway the emotions (hope, fear, ego, love, shame, desire, need) and provoke their wholehearted commitment to an entire way of life or community which may have little or nothing to do with the claim in dispute.

        I have a friend who likes to tell me she is a “former atheist.” When I ask her what changed her mind, she talks about attending a rousing gospel service and thinking to herself “I want to have the confidence and joy these people have.”

        She was converted. That’s not even an argument, let alone a good one.

        And she’s proud of her reason, too. It shows how sensitive she is to the persuasive power of confidence and joy.

        • Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

          I know I’m not alone here in being practically allergic to rah-rah feel-good team-building noisy crowd scenes. But there’s got to be atheists who, however inconceivably, actually like that sort of thing…and they’d do themselves and the rest of society in making sure the religious don’t have a monopoly on it.

          Don’t count me in, don’t even expect me to actually express approval, and certainly don’t expect me to have any interest in it (and don’t you dare suggest it’s something “necessary” for atheists or the like)…but we really could use it for the godless MBA socialite frat party animal basement potluck’n’bingo types.



          • gbjames
            Posted March 20, 2014 at 4:28 am | Permalink

            There is a place for that sort of thing, although I’m not personally much into it.

            • Posted March 20, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

              Yeah, that’s the sort of thing I’m thinking of.

              All the more power to ’em, so long as “live and let live” rules the day.


  7. Sastra
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    “Interfaith dialogues” never, ever deal with truth claims or resemble debate. Instead, they are supposed to consist of two things:

    1.) Here is a description of what we believe.

    2.) We don’t mind if you believe something different.

    Any hint of conflict regarding religious truths about God, scripture, etc. is seriously frowned on and quashed in the name of respect and harmony. The very idea of an interfaith dialogue being a “no-holds barred affair” where people are frank and unafraid of asking challenging or offensive questions makes me stifle a giggle. Won’t happen.

    They … can’t … do … that.

    It’s not like science or philosophy or politics or anything else where “dialogue” resembles discussion and one side tries to persuade the other using reason and evidence. This is religion and identity. There’s no common ground between faith vs. faith and if it’s really an “open” dialogue then they know damn well that the atheists will eventually win — if they let them.

    So Interfaith Alliances are like Mutually Assured Destruction pacts. We won’t question YOU and you don’t question US. Instead, we “share.” We “tell our stories.” We “educate.” And above all we accept whatever you tell us as “true for you.”

    “Isn’t it wonderful that this is what works for you! Now let me tell you what works for me! Isn’t this great!”

    Philosopher Simon Blackburn calls this “Happy-Clappy Religion.”

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      That’s the modern solution. The traditional solution was to break out the swords and go for actual destruction.

      And quite a few sects still can’t manage even that. The sect I grew up in, for example, considered it a sin to cooperate in any way with other “false” religious sects. If a false sect (which included many other brands of Christianity even) was giving food to the poor, you couldn’t contribute lest you be seen to be endorsing their false religion.

      • Sastra
        Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        A friend of mine is looking around for a meeting place for a group of professional story tellers. However, there can be absolutely no association with any sort of religion. No church, no YMCA camp, no retreat. Why? Because 2 of the members are Jehovah’s Witnesses and the group wants to accommodate them.

        Apparently these story tellers can make friends with infidels of all stripes and join the group itself — a fair amount of free-spirited pagans in it, too — but if they’re sitting on chairs which were borrowed from the YWCA then they’re in deep trouble with Jehovah.

        God’s rules don’t have to make sense. They only have to be obeyed.

        Maybe it’s a contamination law.

        • Hempenstein
          Posted March 19, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

          So lemme get this straight – they have a problem sitting on the seat of some other persuasion, but they don’t have any problem standing on my front steps? They can be such callous asses, I wouldda thought their asses would be at least as callused as their feet.

    • Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Oh my god I love that.

      Interfaith dialogue = cold war.

  8. Bruce Gregory
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Am I wrong that most of the people who post here would like to convert others to the true faith?

    • Sastra
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      We would not put it that way because we do not “convert.” Nor do we have a “faith.”

      So yes, you are wrong.

      We view the religious issue as more akin to examining and defending hypotheses, similar to what happens in science, philosophy, politics, etc. “Conversion” involves irrational and/or deceptive tactics. But changing people’s minds about a conclusion by appeals to reason and evidence?

      Why not? It reinforces the common ground of respect and brings us together in a shared search for truth.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Oh, no, not me. (See Sastra’s reference to Dawkins, above.)

    • Newish Gnu
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Yes, you are.

    • gbjames
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Yes, you are wrong. Why do you ask that question?

      • Bruce Gregory
        Posted March 19, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        I don’t want to waste my time listening to those who are convinced that others who do not share their beliefs are hopelessly benighted.

        • gluonspring
          Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

          Well, most of us think religious people are mistaken or deluded, obviously, since that’s what it means to be an atheist. In general we do not think it is hopelessly so. OTOH, in a separate post on this site it is reported that 53% of Americans do not believe it is possible that we atheists can be moral. I don’t know any atheists who think that religious people can not be moral, or intelligent, etc. So exactly who thinks who is benighted?

          In any case, I wonder what brought you here? What did you expect to find that you so quickly take your leave of us?

          • Bruce Gregory
            Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

            I guess I am not an atheist. I not believe there is any evidence that there is a supernatural being, but I have no desire to convert others to my views. Evangelical atheism holds no appeal. I was hoping for more.

            • Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

              Then my guess is that you are lucky to live somewhere where theistic craziness isn’t injected into public policy or legislation.

            • Sastra
              Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

              Of course you’re an atheist. But if you think what we’re trying to do falls under “conversion” or is “evangelical,” then you’re not a new atheist. Reasoned persuasion is not the same as religious conversion.

              Here is the difference illustrated with — ok, I’ll pick “global warming.”

              Reasoned Persuasion:
              “Let me turn on my power point presentation. Here is what climatology involves and here is how we study weather patterns. These are charts and graphs demonstrating why experts in the field of climate have concluded that global warming is happening. I now welcome any challenging questions, and think I can meet objections. This is a matter of reason and evidence.”

              Religious Conversion:
              “I love Nature. Look at these pretty slides of nature and think about how much you care too. Here is a sad picture of a dead polar bear. When I learned that global warming was happening, then my love for this planet made me want to prevent that. If you have a challenging question, that’s okay. I would never force my views on anyone else or judge you. You can choose to believe what you want. I’m just telling my own story, and showing where my journey of love for nature has taken me. This is not a matter for the head: one must open their heart.”

              Do you see a distinction?

              Of course, I used the passive-aggressive methods of the religious liberal for that 2nd one. A fundamentalist version of “global warming religious conversion” would have just said “Global warming IS happening, I know it you know it deny it and you’re a nature-hater.”

              And, of course, I’m not arguing against global warming. Instead, I used something we probably both agree on as an issue in order to cleanly and clearly illustrate the differences between the approaches and tactics.

              We are not intent on “conversion.” Gnu atheists deal with religious claims like the first example — not the second.

              • Bruce Gregory
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

                Your use of the term “passive-aggressive” says a great deal. It tells me what I wanted to know. Thank you.

              • gluonspring
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

                Nicely summarized. And even better is your point below about analyzing claims vs judging people. I think you, and Ben also, should write a book. Both of you are good at capturing the essence in a short space (though with markedly different styles).

              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

                Heavens forfend! Have you any idea what agony it is to write a book? What did I ever do to you to deserve such a curse?


              • Sastra
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

                Please note that the “passive-aggressive” conversion techniques I illustrated in my second example could be used more or less ‘as is’ to argue against global warming, too.

                There’s little to no empirical content or appeals to reason. It’s all subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions that believing X is associated with love and kindness — and the not-so-subtle entailment that if you don’t believe X then you’re evil and hateful.

                But they’re not judging. Oh, no. They would never judge our choice to make what they can clearly perceive to be a narrow, cold, cruel and hateful choice. They totally respect us as long as we don’t challenge the framework.

                They seldom come out and put it this way — not even perhaps to themselves. Not explicitly. “I will only tell my own little story and hope that you will change your mind and come over to the side of sweetness and love.” We think they’ve reasoned incorrectly from flawed data. They think we have closed our hearts. But they don’t judge us.

                Do they really think this fools us atheists forever? Does it fool you?

            • Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

              If you are without gods, you are an atheist; that’s all the word means.

              What the fact that you have no gods yet overwhelming numbers of your fellow humans on Earth do have gods means to you is up to you to figure out.



            • gluonspring
              Posted March 19, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

              “I was hoping for more.”

              We have cats here. Stay for the cats.

              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

                …and fudz, and photos, and boots, and….


              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

                And lolz.

                “That’s my man, Isaac Newton”

        • Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          We don’t think theists are hopelessly benighted. If we thought there was no hope we wouldn’t bother trying to demonstrate how irrational theism is.

          • Bruce Gregory
            Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

            Do you devote an equal amount of energy to convincing Republicans how irrational they are?

            • Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

              The problems with Republicanism overlap significantly with the problems of theism.

              But that’s neither here not there. It’s not a defense to say “but here’s problem X, so stop dealing with problem Y.”

            • Sastra
              Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

              No, not me. I know less about politics and don’t have enough background to do it well.

              But I respect those who DO study the topic and argue over politics — and don’t sniff that they’re not devoting an equal amount of energy to serious debate on religion.

              Do you think the truths of religious beliefs are insignificant — that it’s like a silly little hobby or lifestyle to most religious people and even they don’t care?

              • Bruce Gregory
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

                I think we all make sense of the world in the best way we can. I have no desire to judge others and I hope they will not judge me.

              • Sastra
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

                I am NOT “judging others.” I am analyzing the claim. In order to do this I have to assume equality with the other person.

                The whole “judging people” idea is based on the belief that faith involves a person’s identity. Truth is known by the heart. Change someone’s mind and it will be like they died. They become their worst nightmare: a different kind of person. A person like you.

                Follow that one down and it entails judging people. It moves the discussion from the belief to the believer, from the objective evidence for the claim to the personal defects of the nonbeliever. This is destructive to human community.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

                “I have no desire to judge others…”

                Sez the man who has just berated his fellow commenters for their misconduct. Bro! You done busted the irony machine!

            • Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

              Some of us do — but what has that to do with the price of china in Thailand?


              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

                I think you got that saying worng.

              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

                Damn. It’s Bob Price climbing trees in the highlands, isn’t it? I can never remember that one right….


        • Sastra
          Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          People who are “convinced that others who do not share their beliefs are hopelessly benighted” do not try to change anyone’s mind. Those would be the critics of gnu atheism, the atheists who taunt Dawkins and Coyne for trying to make reasoned arguments against religious beliefs.

          “Why do you bother? These people can’t change. They’re hopelessly irrational and mired in faith, so it’s pointless even trying to debate. They’re entrenched and beyond reason. So humor the morons and move on to something other than religion.”

          It’s one of the accomodationist positions. If this rationale is never said directly to their faces, it can look like tolerance and respect.

          Is it?

          • Bruce Gregory
            Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

            I am all in favor of tolerance and respect. I guess I am in the minority.

            • Sastra
              Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

              No, WE are in favor of tolerance and respect, too. YOU are doing it wrong.

            • Richard Olson
              Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

              I am all in favor of tolerance and respect (Y’all, otoh, are not. Quit denying it, you’re lying through your teeth and you may persuade yourselves with your cleverly worded denial statements buy you’ll never convince me.)

              I guess I am in the minority. (You alone demonstrate motivated reasoning to infer intolerance and disrespect, despite a lack of any demonstrable implication contained in others’ posts on this thread. The tenor of your remarks, steadily entrenching and increasing in rigidity as the conversation progresses, is standard passive-aggressive confrontational hostility on parade.)

              • Bruce Gregory
                Posted March 20, 2014 at 5:28 am | Permalink

                Thank you for sharing.

            • Richard Olson
              Posted March 20, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink

              Thank you for reading. It is to tilt at a windmill, but sometimes I am unable to resist swinging my hammer at smug self-righteousness.

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      Faith is always false, almost by definition. At least, there can be no “true” faith. True things can be known by evidence and logic. Faith is what’s used to justify irrational beliefs that can’t stand scrutiny.

  9. Sastra
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I was once almost on a religious diversity panel. It was for high school groups and when it was my turn I was simply supposed to talk about atheists and explain what and how we believed. Do we have special holidays, where do we get our morals — that sort of thing. It wasn’t supposed to be any kind of debate but was meant to introduce teenagers to people with different views and get them to understand a little bit about each one.

    No problem. Fine idea. I can do that (though don’t think I won’t get into more serious territory if directly challenged in a Q & A)

    I said I was ‘almost’ on the panel because the panel was cancelled before I found out whether I’d made my case for inclusion or not (“No, atheism is not a religion but it’s a very misunderstood position on religion and belongs at a diversity convention etc etc.”)

    It seems that a few of the principals had signed off on a “pagan” being in the religious diversity group and then found out that the pagan was a Wiccan. The horrors. The entire panel had to be scrapped or about 3 major schools (including the public one) were boycotting.

    Should have had it and sat me next to the Wiccan. She would have looked more acceptable.

    • Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Atheists, the ultimate villains!

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        I wonder if marvel are missing some obvious dough there.

        Atheizman/woman: When truth hurts.

  10. uglicoyote
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Road.

  11. gophergold
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    ” what “successful” would mean in that context”

    They don’t kill each other? It’s a start.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Don’t ask for the moon, gopher.

  12. religionenslaves
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    Practical suggestion when debating with a religionist.
    Ask the question: “can you conceive any set of circumstances under which you would have to conclude that your god is man-made?” [In my experience in 99% of cases you get a “NO” answer – the remaining 1% simply lie.]
    The reason why the outcome of any debate is never in doubt is that the religious apologists are inevitably handicapped by their adherence to a dogma (it matters not which one) and therefore are unable to conduct a proper and searching debate.
    I do not buy the idea that you may persuade some people in the audience, as the net result is more likely to be an entrenchment of positions (and the people who are open-minded enough to change their views would have benefited more from a debate with them directly ).

    • Posted March 20, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      That’s not the question to ask.

      The real question to ask, is, “Would you buy an used car on faith? How ’bout penny stocks? Prime Arizona oceanfront property? No? Then why have you bought your religion on faith?”

      Expect instant equivocation between religious faith and, say, marital faith, and be prepared to point out that one has strong evidence to trust one’s spouse — and, even still, that faith can be misplaced. So where’s the evidence, and what (such as lipstick-smeared undergarments) would constitute evidence that their faith in their gods has been misplaced?

      Frame it in terms of fraud — which is appropriate because it’s what religion really is and because that’s where their cognitive dissonance is most fragile.


      • religionenslaves
        Posted March 20, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        I still think that the answer to my question is more revealing than the answer to yours.
        Interesting that you should mention fraud, as I believe that religion as fraud is as under-examined as is crucial to challenge (organized) religion. Probably I am not allowed to mention that I am writing a b**k about it …

  13. Chris
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Interfaith panels always seem like circle-jerks to me.

    Or, rather, they usually only publicly discuss where they agree, and this area is mainly confined to “religions are important, respect mah authoritah”.

    The inclusion of atheists always seems to end badly. I wonder why?

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