New Guinea?

Since we moved to Oklahoma Michele and I have gotten along with most everyone we've met, despite the fact that we're both weird. Thankfully, we've found plenty of other weird people to make friends with, but with one exception (a guy in Michele's office) we haven't even had minor personality problems.

And we still don't, but today I had an interesting exchange. I started my office hours with three other adjuncts--two of whom I knew fairly well from last semester and another I'd talked to a few times. Monte's an older guy, a member of the Church of Christ. He's friendly and thoughtful, and really curious about both my nodding acquaintance with Buddhism and my budding pescetarianism. Tonya is a couple years younger than me and a recent convert to a nondenominational Christianity. I've had lengthy, comfortable, and valuable conversations with both about religion and related matters, though the three of us probably believe few of the same things.

Tom was the fourth at the table today. I've known for some time that he's also Christian, and that he's both emphatic and vocal in his belief. Even though he's in his fifties (I think) his demeanor reminds me of myself when I was about twenty-five--convinced, arrogant, and dismissive.

Tom brought up some topic today that got us talking about hostility about belief, which is one of the focus topics of the humor book I'm working on. I said something about the hostility between different kinds of religionists and between religionists and non-religionists. Monte said, "Why is that?"Meaning, why is there such hostility? This question is one reason Monte and I get along. We're both more curious than insistent.

Just after I said, "Well, there shouldn't be, but--" Tom interrupted and spent the next fifteen minutes monologuing about why he's hostile to those who don't believe in God. His speech was a constant stream, such that we other three couldn't even interrupt to try bringing the discussion back to the original point, let alone point out where his ranting departed from solid argument and strayed into irrelevance or incoherence.

At one point he looked at me and said, "You're like the man in New Guinea. When a student comes to him with a scholarship to a school in the United States, you tell him that the United States doesn't exist." The analogy bothered me, but he moved along to a new subject denigrating my nonbelief so quickly I couldn't frame my objections, or even figure them out.

The problem with his analogy (at least the first problem) is that it's a straw man. He's built a position that isn't mine in order to more easily dismantle it. Putting me in the position of the doubter in his analogy is effective, especially when using the crutch of an example for which the listeners must acknowledge the truth of the proposition being doubted, but it's wrong.

There are some atheists who will go as far as saying that it is a fact that God doesn't exist, but they are few and far between (at least thoughtful ones are). A larger number will say that they believe that God doesn't exist. That's the classic "strong atheist" stance. Still, that's not me.

My position, that I don't believe that God exists, differs both in proposition and in disposition from this stance. Rather than being the New Guinean who tells another that the United States does not exist, I'd be the guy who says he's never encountered any evidence for the existence of the United States.

The difference, I think, is that Tom is tying belief to truth and I'm not. He's comfortable using the words "knowledge" and "truth" as close corrollaries to his perceptions and apperceptions, and I'm not. We're speaking two different languages about one subject--which is interesting, because Tom has a PhD in Linguistics.

Am I a hopeless geek for being excited to bring this up when I see these people again on Thursday?



Baritonality said...

not only are you like the New Guinean.. you are like a man on fire who asks for a drink of water.

That didn't make sense either, but you must be somehow, because I said it.

You are a geek for wanting to bring this up again. (Thanks for the post).

Diana said...

Your geekness is a quality that I value. I will not be adding you and M. to my litter box list.

Jason said...

I'm happy my geekitude has a place somewhere. I'm not sure I'd mess with a guy who had the composure to ask for a drink while he was on fire. He'd be a badass.

I'm not sure what the "litter box list" is. I must have missed that post. I must go back and reread.