Monday, October 24, 2011

Thoughts on being accomodating

This is a great speech, actually 4 speeches. If you really have time on your hands listen to the whole hour. It covers some of the most important issues that any movement should know, or anyone wanting to forward an idea of any kind. Some of you may be familiar with the speakers, or at least one of them and be immediately turned off by it. Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion and speaks out often against religion. But here he talks about why it is important to take the tone that he does and why it is important to draw a line of decency.

In the segment preceding this one, Tom Melchiorre, talks about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and how their works complimented each other. How the civil rights movement might have benefitted more from having both of them active rather than just one. Hopefully that intrigues you enough to watch that clip. He may be a little off in his historical analysis, but it still makes a good point.

If you dislike both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X then I don’t know what anybody can offer you. For me each had something to offer, both in what they actually did and through the stories of who they were. I was neither a drug dealer in Harlem nor a seminary student who just wanted a nice quiet ministry in the South so I can’t relate to the youth of either of these men. I can understand how each used those early experiences and took major turns in their life. They both saw the same problems but approached them very differently. Much of the discussion about the civil rights movement at the time was about their approach. Both publicly stated that they didn’t like the other.

If you liked either of those parts of this 5 part series, you might like to dial back to part one and hear Rebecca Watson talk about differences among people in a movement. Rebecca isn’t nearly as famous as Richard Dawkins, but she does merit a lengthy Wikipedia entry. She talks about setting some standards of behavior and ethics when anyone gathers to discuss atheism. Atheism has a bit of a problem in that first the word starts with the prefix “a” meaning “not”, so it isn’t “for” anything. Also, one of the big problems people have with atheism is that they believe it implies you have to no basis for morality.

It is true that there is no official website of atheism that lists rules of any kind. Many people don’t like to be associated with it as a movement even if they don’t believe in God, or Allah or any other god. There are conventions, blogs, newsletters, books and podcasts, but no official hierarchy and there probably never will be. Like civil rights, gay rights and women’s suffrage, organizing will be ad-hoc and someday it will not be needed at all. Some who are organizing believe it is also important to discuss standards and I agree some standards might help the movement. As Rebecca has noted, it would help if more women came to the atheist meetings or joined the secularist or humanist groups, so if they do, show them some respect.

This probably seems fairly simple but apparently some of the people in the audience didn’t get it. Later that night Rebecca was talking with several people, mostly men, in the bar of the hotel where the convention was and at 3:00 in the morning as she went off to bed, one of the men, who had hardly talked to her at all, followed her into the elevator and while they were alone, invited her to his room “for coffee”. Rebecca commented negatively about this in her blog, Dawkins commented negatively about her and you can now get a ton of Google hits on “Rebecca Watson elevator”. It is part of her Wiki page. I hope that is temporary.

I happen to agree with Rebecca and I wish I had heard her advice when I was 17. However I won’t be joining her in boycotting Richard’s book. I won’t dwell on any of that. The point is, in any organization, movement or when 2 or more are gathered for some purpose, disagreements on violations of basic standards can quickly sabotage the purpose. This YouTube post proves my point. It is a great presentation by some of the best in the movement, and it has not been viewed much. Look at the comments, and you’ll see a lot of them are about the elevator incident.

I’m not advocating taking any particular tone or suggesting any one side or segment of any population needs to be more accommodating than they currently are. For the moment, I’m pointing out that the path is difficult. There is no one set of standards in any book anywhere that will prevent all conflict, so maybe spending time arguing about what those standards might be is not terribly fruitful.

The discussion of religion, atheism, education, indoctrination, creation, evolution, global warming, ethics, birth control, prayer, women’s roles, abortion, money and love is a difficult one. I say “one” because all of those things get mixed up into one conversation. We all need to take responsibility for moving it forward.

There is one rule, known as “The Golden Rule” to Christians, and known to many other traditions under different names that is a good place to start. Some versions of it state more explicitly that understanding what the other person wants is an important part of the rule. There are plenty of other resources about how to be a nice person, so I’ll just leave it at that and hope you enjoy the links.

I will leave you with a quote from someone who has been much more successful at navigating the road or difficult political topics than I have. Dominique de Villepin was Prime Minister of France from 2005-2007.

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