Wednesday, 17 February 2016
Agreeing to Agreeably Agree to Disagree
On the 5th of February, well-known Angry Atheist, Richard Dawkins suffered a minor stroke (caused, apparently, by high blood pressure). Now, it is well-known that I’m no fan of Professor Dawkins (I love the description of him by John Finnemore; “He’s a very clever man, who’s also a bit of an idiot”), but I’m nonetheless genuinely glad that he appears to be making a full recovery.
In response to this, the Church of England’s official Twitter account tweeted “Prayers for Prof Dawkins and his family”, which, considering how scathing Dawkins is about religion in general, but especially Christianity, is in my opinion a very Christian gesture. Incredibly (but actually, possibly predictably) a lot of people online assumed that the Church were being sarcastic or deliberately mocking.
It is extremely tempting to see this as people judging by their own standards. I’ve spoken before about the propensity of the vocal minority of vehement anti-theists that to prefer to trade in insults and mockery than to engage in courteous debate, and perhaps they assume that therefore this must be the Church doing exactly the same thing. The idea that a group or individual could hear that an enemy is ill, and wish to see them recover, and send sincere good wishes and prayers is perhaps entirely foreign to their way of thinking. “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those that hate you,” is presumably not in their lexicon.
One respondent to the tweet asked whether it was “sarcastic or ignorant?” By asking the question, they have, in my opinion, displayed their own ignorance. After all, if, as Dawkins et al believe, prayer is nonsense, then nothing bad can come of it, and if they’re wrong, then only good will come of it. It has been suggested that since Dawkins is so vehemently opposed to prayer, saying that you’re praying for him can’t be anything but provocative, but frankly he should be accepting them in the spirit in which they’re intended. I have several pagan friends, and if they wish me a happy Imbolc or Samhain, I don’t assume that they’re being antagonistic, I assume they’re being nice. Again, perhaps these people are judging by their own antagonistic standards?
I have a confession. Before about three days ago, I had never heard of Antonin Scalia. That possibly makes me extremely ignorant. I understand that he was a US Supreme Court Judge, and based on the reactions to the news of his death by my more conservative and liberal friends, I understand that he was very strongly on the conservative side. It sounds like I agree with some of his opinions, and disagree with many others, in some cases fairly strongly.
He has now died, and conservatives are mourning, as well they might. However, I have frankly been disgusted by some of the online reactions to his death by the more liberal side. Disagree with him; it is your right. Oppose him; it is your moral duty, if that is where your morals point you. Mock him? Insult him? Crow about his death at what, nowadays, is a comparatively young age? You are merely disparaging yourselves, and confirming the worst of what your opponents think of you.
I am well aware that like the Angry Atheists, such people in the politically liberal camp are a vocal minority, but one of the downsides of the internet is that such vocal minorities, of any group or side, are much more visible than ever before, while the silent moderate majority are just as silent as ever, and thus every group or faction appears to outsiders to be composed almost solely of its extremist fringes.
It is possible to agree to disagree. It is possible to be courteous to those who disagree with you. It is even possible to be friends with those who disagree with you. Indeed, many people whom I consider to be good friends bizarrely and perversely persist in disagreeing with me on a variety of topics. Well, all I can say is that I consider it to be a Good Thing. Usually. Not always. Sometimes they're just plain wrong.
But if you disagree with me about this, then I will, on this occasion, allow it.