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Under what circumstances does it become incumbent to challenge another's beliefs, especially in a religious context?

asked Dec 30 '10 at 02:09

capitalistswine's gravatar image

capitalistswine ♦

"Circumstances" and "religious context" would seem to add up to a religiously-defined situation. But I suspect the questioner wants to know when and why it is (appropriate to/?) morally required for a person to challenge another's religious beliefs. Clarify?

(Dec 30 '10 at 20:10) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

This attempt at clarification is correct. (This was a question posed in objectivist chat @ObjectivismOnlinenet)and I felt this may be a relatively common question and a thorough answer might be beneficial to others.

(Dec 31 '10 at 17:58) capitalistswine ♦ capitalistswine's gravatar image

There are two considerations, I believe, relevant to deciding whether or not it is necessary to speak out against religious assertions. One is the question of whether it is necessary to do so in order to avoid sanctioning false ideas. The other is the issue of standing up for one's values when they come under attack.

Standing up for one's values is a broader category than acting to avoid sanctioning a false idea, though one's beliefs are, of course, themselves values. Standing up for one's values might entail extremes of action such as taking up arms, or blowing up buildings. Here, the question is limited to when it is necessary to undertake verbal opposition in order to stand up for one's values.

A sanction of someone else's expressed belief or opinion is implied when it has been presented in a certain way, and there is no comment or demur. When a claim is given as being explicitly agreed with, such as: "As we all know, human rights are a gift from God," and assuming that the context allows comment, failing to express disagreement is a moral failure.

The equivalent thing happens without those explicit words, and would also require one to express some sort of disagreement. It is perhaps impossible to define the factors which make the difference between there being or not being an implied agreement and thus sanction. It takes experience and judgment to tell.

Speaking out in disagreement, when appropriate, can range from murmurring, "Not at all," to setting out a full-fledged argument. The social contexts appropriate for the one versus the other cannot be defined in detail. As a rule-of-thumb, keep in mind that the event is more or less someone's arrangements, and try to be sensitive to the proprieties of the social situation.

The difference between this and situations that involve defending a value, when that value is an idea, involve there being an actual attack made on the concrete value. Logical opposition is not an attack. That someone endorses an idea opposed to your own does not constitute an attack on your idea. (To hold that view would, for example, put you in opposition to freedom of belief and speech and self-determination.)

What, then, constitutes an attack on a personal value that happens to be an idea? It is the act of promoting an irrational idea, presenting and/or arguing it to an audience of which you are a part, or to the public at large, that constitutes an attack on the value which your own belief represents.

When someone is arguing for a falsehood, they are attacking the truth. Assuming the idea and the audience are of a stature that matters, and assuming the costs in time and effort are reasonable, it is then necessary to speak up against the false position, and in support of the truth.

It is not often that one is obliged to speak out against other people's false ideas. When it is necessary, it tends to be a socially tense situation, and the minimum of expression of disagreement is probably best. On the other hand, it is not infrequent that we are in a position to need to speak up in support of an idea that is being discredited. Unfortunately, this service is often neglected, and the opportunity to strengthen what is good in culture and in one's companions falls by the way.

Religious beliefs are no different than political ones in regard to this question, but they are more vulnerable to reasoning. While it is perhaps fun and easy to take pot-shots at religious beliefs, there is no philosophical virtue in doing so. If opposing others' erroneous ideological claims is motivated by an appreciation of the importance of ideas to life, it will be done in light of the seriousness of the matter.

answered Jan 01 '11 at 01:29

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

edited Jan 01 '11 at 01:33

Here is an introductory "stab" at this question in advance of Diana's forthcoming analysis (scheduled for Jan. 2).

The question sounds like a species of the topic of moral judgment, which Ayn Rand discusses in VOS, Chapter 8, "How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society." Some key excerpts from that discussion are included in the entry on "Moral Judgement" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, along with excerpts from other writings.

In defending the importance of pronouncing moral judgment, Ayn Rand points out:

The policy of always pronouncing moral judgment does not mean that one must regard oneself as a missionary charged with the responsibility of "saving everyone's soul" -- nor that one must give unsolicited moral appraisals to all those one meets.

She explains that one must know clearly what one's own moral appraisals are, and "must make one's moral evaluation known to others, when it is rationally appropriate to do so." [VOS, Chap. 8]

"Rationally appropriate" depends on factors such as your relationship to the other person, whether or not the other person and/or the potential audience, if any, are open to reason (or might be), and especially whether or not your silence could rationally be interpreted as de facto agreement with something you completely disagree with. In cases such as this last, the importance of speaking up, if only to state that you don't agree, is not to try to change others' views, but merely to make sure there is no misunderstanding about your own lack of agreement with those views, lest anyone start to think that you support something that you actually oppose.

Ayn Rand covers this topic in far greater depth in VOS, Chap. 8.

answered Jan 01 '11 at 00:11

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

I answered this question in a recent edition of my Rationally Selfish Webcast. An audio recording of my response is available as a podcast via my blog: NoodleCast #50: Live Rationally Selfish Webcast, starting at 48:17 and ending at 58:02. My basic view is that you should focus on taking responsibility for your own beliefs and actions. Don't try to assume responsibility for what others think and do.

answered Jan 04 '11 at 12:39

Diana%20Hsieh's gravatar image

Diana Hsieh ♦

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Asked: Dec 30 '10 at 02:09

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Last updated: Jan 04 '11 at 12:39