The Other I

January 18, 2011

Earnest definitions

Filed under: Uncategorized — theotheri @ 2:46 pm

One of the first steps one takes in approaching a problem scientifically is to define what one is studying.  This is so elementary that the phrase “what I mean by x…” is equivalent to a 12-month old baby learning to say “mama.”

In that context, it’s rather surprising how many even exceptional scientists will discuss the existence or otherwise of God without more than a cursory glance at what they mean by “God.”  This same problem of definition surrounds words like “religion” and “belief” and “morality” too.

It is easy to find dynamic exchanges in print and cyberspace over whether wars are  caused by religious conflict and whether we would live in greater peace if we did away with God and religion altogether.

But aren’t religious beliefs so very varied that it is  impossible to discuss this question without defining which religious beliefs we are analyzing?

It seems to me, for instance, that a religiously derived belief that we should love our fellow humans as we love ourselves has quite different imperatives from the belief that God has mandated that I should eliminate from the face of the earth all those who do not believe in my God.

Religiously derived moral principles are sometimes just as diametrically opposed to each other.  It takes some fancy intellectual wiggling, for instance, to reconcile the prohibition against killing ones fellow-man and  capital punishment.  Or the essential equality of all people and slavery.   And does a sense of responsibility for one’s child support or condone a practice of exorcising a child because he is possessed by the devil?

It is obvious from the content of this blog that I find questions about God and religion endlessly fascinating.  But I do think we need to know what we’re talking about before we can begin to agree to disagree.

Having said that, I must admit that I’ve done a lot of agreeing and disagreeing in my life without having thought that I might not have much of an idea what I’m energetically talking about to begin with.


  1. After reading this and some consideration, I don’t think I should be arguing at all!


    Comment by jooliedee — January 18, 2011 @ 11:46 pm | Reply

    • Oh no, don’t say that !!! if we don’t agree to disagree how will most of us ever learn anything at all? (Although I will admit that I have learned from repeated personal experience that the uninformed or ill-thought-through things I say sometimes makes me wish I’d been wise enough to keep my ignorance to myself.)

      Seriously, I hope you are having a good day.


      Comment by theotheri — January 19, 2011 @ 10:36 am | Reply

      • Agreeing and disagreeing on ideas make sense. Being curious and discussing ideas also makes sense. I just think that “arguing” has a different, righteous vibe to it, but that could be me trying to be too zen.

        I don’t want to argue ideas, I want to discuss them and then I will agree or disagree based on my choosing. How’s that?


        Comment by jooliedee — January 19, 2011 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

        • Okay, I agree. I also agree that the words “dialogue” and “discussion” include the idea of listening and learning from the other that is usually missing when we use the term “arguing.”

          So I take your point. Even without adding *ze* zen.


          Comment by theotheri — January 19, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

  2. This has been very helpful to me then, because I have a trait to argue. Sometimes it’s the unsaid argument. Now I see that is futile, especially when a bit of anger is stirred inside and it becomes hard to listen. What I most dislike about arguing is the resistance I put up against listening.

    I want to listen. I want to discuss. I want to get people’s points.

    I am committed to improve my communication this year, so this blog is spot on.


    Comment by jooliedee — January 19, 2011 @ 4:42 pm | Reply

    • You truly are a treasure. Seriously. Perhaps we are actually good for *each other. * *T *


      Comment by theotheri — January 19, 2011 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

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