On Not Understanding Others

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Nurture Phoenixes
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Jan 2, 2012
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Walking the Underworld
One of the recurrent problems in comparative religion and philosophy is the difficulty we each have in understanding how a person with a different religion and / or philosophy can possibly hold to that alien world view.

A board like this affords an excellent opportunity to bridge these gaps of incomprehension.

Regrettably, those opportunities are often wasted because of three recurrent posting problems.

1. "My view is right" posts.

These posts are not so much explanations of the poster's POV, but stories explaining why this view and only this view should be considered.

Often these stories are self referential. For example, a person quoting from his or her own holy book as justification for the idea that one should follow the teachings of that book.

Such posts amount to preaching to the choir. But this board by its nature is no one's choir.

2. Attack posts.

These posts are meant to tear down rather than explore other POVs. They make assumptions that the people of other POVs are ignorant of their own views. They are often condescending and tediously clever. One frequent problem in such posts is that the posters use what they believe to be new challenges to the POV, but in most cases those ideas are common and have been answered repeatedly.

3. Mythologizing or dismissive posts.

These posts are a little more subtle. Rather than being a direct attack they act as though the battle has already been won by the poster. They assume that of course everyone knows that the other POV doesn't work or was proved wrong at some point.

These posts are the most frustrating to deal with because the posters need to be reminded that another POV exists and thrives, where they act as if it were dead and buried.

A few examples of part three need to be brought up:

a) There is a tendency for followers of Abrahamic religions to treat non-monotheist religions (particularly those that use images and statues) as if they were somehow primitive and outmoded, something extinguished in the biblical era. Such is not the case. There are many polytheist religions and we have a number of members who follow them.

b) There is a tendency for Christians to treat Judaism as if it had stopped during the era of the New Testament and to act as if nobody had found or could find a deeper understanding in the Hebrew Bible without the adjunct of the Christian Bible.

c) There is a tendency for theists to assume that atheists are theists who have lost their way, rather than people who have found non-theistic ways. Accompanying this is a tendency to treat all atheists as if they were ignorant of religion.

d) There is a tendency for atheists to treat all theists as if they were ignorant of anything but a particular scripture which they adhere to fanatically.

e) There is a tendency for people to not understand how other religions or philosophies can serve as sources of morality.

So, does this mean that one cannot post a question about another person's POV or point out possible problems in it?

No, it means that such posts need to be respectful in the sense of assuming that the other person is a thoughtful human being whose POV makes sense to that person both internally (that is, for the person's life and mind) and externally (that is, for how the person lives in the world).

If one does not understand how a person can live with that POV, then one may ask that person how he or she deals with particular situations or reconciles things that don't seem to fit.

But remember, this is not a game of King of The Hill. The last person posting a challenge does not win the thread or prove the truth of their POV.

We aren't fighting about truth. We're trying to understand each other's ways of seeing the truth.

This requires that people post honestly.

Posting a myth about other people to dismiss those people is not honest. Real people live real lives. Those lives are not ours to make up self-congratulatory stories about. Religions, philosophies and histories of a particular people have a terrible track record as regards respect towards others. Histories are full of self-justifications and dismissals of others.

Challenges to the POVs of others need to be respectful. Challenges to how a POV depicts others can be firmly and respectfully blunt in discussing factual errors in those challenges.

If we post with the awareness that most others on this board do not share any individual POV, but are all interested in the POVs of others, we can bring our understandings to each other and come away with broader world views and a better sense of why and how other people are living the lives they are living.

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