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I am a new parent. My interests are secularism, learning, parenting, religion, career planning, and adult education.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Don't be a Dick

Have you ever heard of The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM)? It's a conference sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation and its purpose is to be a celebration of critical thinking and skepticism. I've only known about the conference for the last year or so, and I really, really want to go one day. It's on the bucket list in my head.

There was a speech given at TAM8 this year given by Phil Plait, author of the blog Bad Astronomy. You can view the entire speech and read about his thoughts on the fall out from the speech here - I think it's fantastic!

Phil Plait - Don't Be A Dick from JREF on Vimeo.

Phil explains the message of his speech on his blog saying

My first point was that we must keep in mind our goal. If it’s to change the hearts and minds of people across the world, then at least as important as what we say is how we say it. And my second point was pretty simple… but you’ll get to it around 24 minutes in.

The second point was "Don't be a dick". In the speech, and I really hope you watch it, he basically asks - How many people became a skeptic because someone got in their face and called them “an idiot, brain damaged and a retard?”

My answer is - I didn't. Much like Phil, my path to skepticism was a gradual progression, as I continued to rely on logic, reason, and what verifiable evidence exists to guide my decision making and practice my own critical thinking skills. And I'm still practicing!

In fact, there was a time during my very religious years when I did come across some information that threatened my deeply-held faith - but because it was presented to me in a way that was rude, condescending, and basically amounted to an attack on my intelligence, I didn`t stick around long enough to consider the evidence underneath the vitriol contained in the message. Some may call me too sensitive, that it should matter how the evidence is presented, but most humans are not wired that way - and anyone who has been involved in education, communications, and marketing will tell you the same thing.

When I was finally ready to examine what I believed in light of disturbing information and personal experiences and circumstances that made it clear that what I believed didn't "work", I had an intelligent and compassionate friend who wasn't afraid to ask me hard questions, and let me find the answers on my own.

Challenging deeply held beliefs, beliefs that really were a part of my identity, was scary and made me feel vulnerable. People who are letting go of faith will often ask themselves if they were stupid to believe in something, I know I did - so they don't need others telling them they are stupid as well. Because there will be a knee-jerk reaction to defend oneself.

Instead, I had someone who had walked that scary path before me, who wasn`t afraid to speak truth to power, not afraid to ask me hard questions (and did so with passion and sometimes even anger), but also was there to comfort me, and support me as I mourned the loss of my faith. That made a huge difference. When I got to the other side, I was surprised at how wonderful the world still was, how empowered I felt, and how not-at-all stupid I felt.

When I left my faith behind me, I had to leave the faith community as well. One of my friends from church said that our friendship might never be the same because she would always wonder if I thought she was stupid for staying in the church while I was leaving. I can`t remember my exact words, I`ve actually been asked this a couple times, but ultimately, I say no, I don`t think people who believe in God are stupid, because I don`t think that it was stupid for me to believe in God when I did. I don`t think I`m better than others because "I figured it out" and someone else hasn't yet. Us non-believers are in the world's minority, and I doubt the world has such a minority of "smart" people in it.

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