Warrior or diplomat?

Today’s posting at Friendly Atheist discusses the pros and cons of atheists being either belligerent or accommodating toward believers. The post was inspired by a recent talk by Phil Plait, who describes the two options as “warrior” and “diplomat”.

This got me thinking about my changing attitudes to believers over the years. I’ve veered from the warrior to the diplomat and back again a number of times. Interestingly, my attitude seems unavoidably influenced by what I happen to be reading at the time, or who I am talking to.

For instance, I’ve had some interesting discussions with Christians on Facebook groups. While I pride myself on keeping these discussions as civil and as calm as possible, they usually leave me feeling frustrated, usually at the dogmatic nature of my opponent’s attitude. I sometimes feel like the Terminator, who shatters his slippery metal nemesis to little pieces, only to see them reconstitute themselves for another round of battle.

But my warrior tendencies are tempered toward diplomacy for two reasons. The first is that I, too, once held dogmatic beliefs about unproven, invisible gods (and I held these beliefs for many years), so I feel I can identify with believers to a certain extent. The second is that there is little practical use in labeling most of the world’s population as stupid, stubborn or delusional. Far better, I think, to recognize that religious belief is a potent psychological phenomenon to which most people are susceptible. Indeed, only by recognizing this can we figure out effective means of mitigating harmful, violent forms of religious belief.

Besides, I’m ever the pragmatist, and I know that mocking someone’s beliefs is not going to get them to change their minds.

So, while I eschew the accommodationist attitude that turns a blind eye to fundamental disagreements between science and religion, I believe that the more fruitful position lies closer to the diplomat than the warrior.


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