(1) A is a Christian, but …
(2) A is a Christian who is also a theologian, a Christian who’s given it some thought, and been able to show at least some level of intelligence, and …
(3) A is a theologian whose belief motivated them to heroic courageous acts that culminated in their death at the hands of the Nazis.
Now consider that:
(4) Some people “criticise” Christians satirically in general for believing in a god like anyone might believe in a “spaghetti monster” – which would be seen as a stupid thing to do – but this is irony, right? so most Christians would accept such a criticism without personal offence – turn the other cheek, etc. (Though there is no actual “argument” in this criticism, other than to make the “and that would be stupid” point. It’s a free country n’all that.)
(5) Another theologian B points out the historical heroism of A (point 3 above), and ends with the footnote that FSM’s (flying spaghetti monsterists and like people) should take that as “a point of reference” – something to think about – no specific message. That’s it. End of.
Then, digressive twitter debate ensues. ie interminable in short bites, because each bite introduces a new topic, without ever agreeing conclusion of any existing topic. So what were the topics?
Deliberately paraphrasing, to home in on intended issues, maybe this is the assertion from one side : Believing in god or spaghetti monsters is stupid or at least irrational, but this is needn’t be ad-hominem criticism, insulting such people as stupid, unless their personal beliefs in this regard interfere with their public actions.
(Obviously, people hold many beliefs and are motivated to many actions – so apart from some general concept of self-consistency – not all actions are motivated by all beliefs. We’re talking about specific individual beliefs, motivations and related actions.)
So, do individual beliefs form part of their motivations?
And do such beliefs and motivations therefore affect individuals public actions and their intended outcomes?
If no. STOP (Start separate discussion on the individual and free will, etc.)
So, yes, in general actions are motivated by belief:
But do we believe A’s actions specifically were motivated by their Christian belief,
And do we agree A’s – very public – actions were indeed, good, virtuous, courageous and/or heroic say?
(ie not just Christian belief and believers in general, but an individual theologian whose heroic life was very much defined by this fact.) Note there’s nothing exclusive in these statements, about all good actions necessarily being attributed to Christian belief, nor that equally good actions are motivated in others with other beliefs. Just a fact in this individual case.
C : I don’t see the connection [between spaghetti monster criticisms and recognising the goodness of A’s actions]. Criticising religion doesn’t equate to disrespecting individuals such as this, does it?
This is the point – not seeing the connection – does affect the ability to see the relationship between the belief and the “good” action of the individual. The nature of the criticism does affect the view of the individual and the relationship between their beliefs motivations and actions.
So how do we join up the nature of criticism of someone’s beliefs, with opinions (more beliefs) about the quality of them and their actions.
We have a (at least) three things – qualities of people, their beliefs and their actions – individually and collectively, whole and in part. [Now this discussion is 3000 years old. Virtue and the virtues. Old, and knotty too.]
Clearly, objectively, with hindsight, we judge the quality of people in their actions.
At that point we may say their motivations and the beliefs that underpin them are not relevant, so long as their actions appear “good”. (Though even this depends on how much the quality of consequences are indeed apparent at any given viewpoint in time – but for now we may hold that belief and motivation – and any other qualities of the individual – are irrelevant.)
So why then, does anyone criticise anyone else’s beliefs?
Why does anyone care if such criticisms cast aspertions about qualities of the individuals that hold them?
Well, because we do care and we do value them. Beliefs are NOT irrelevant.
We judge historical actions (and expressions of beliefs and motivations, verbal or otherwise, are simply more actions) as a stock of resource in the person – qualities and values – their “virtues”. And we value them because we have to judge who to support, ally with, vote for, be seen having a beer with, now and in the future. A “stranger” about whom we know nothing empirically is either given the benefit of the doubt or treated with caution and suspicion, or typically some combination of the two, until more “objective” evidence emerges. But we value the emerging stock of virtue(s).
C : People “are” – all a mass of countless beliefs and actions. Criticising part is (obviously) not criticising the whole.
Absolutely – individually we are is simply the collection and organisation of the information patterns we hold to date. [Meme theory of individual cognition & consciousness. We ARE our resource of human virtues.] And, before we act, or speak, these are “in our heads” (and hearts).
We can’t criticise (or appreciate) people’s ideas (and their stock of motivations and virtues) independent of the person. They are them. If we care about the person, we must care how we criticise their ideas.
Now for most people with a wide range of beliefs and ideas, it’s perfectly possible to criticise an individual idea (or action or motivation) distinct from a wider complex of ideas. To criticise a part but not the whole individual. Note however for both subject and critic there is some sense of necessary consistency in that complex as a whole. How consistent, and how much effort and competence is put to developing and rationalising that consistent whole, varies enormously – hence the knotty twists of virtue and the virtues, and the examined life. Not all Christians can be theologians. Not all cyclists can be trick-cyclists.
So what is the point of the original footnote.
All beliefs are open to criticism, and criticism includes ridicule (though see separate restraints on gratuitously offensive ridicule beyond the context of satire and irony).
Flying Spaghetti Monsterism (FSM) is of the ridicule variety – suggesting the belief (in spaghetti monsters or supernatural gods) is so ridiculous, it’s a ridiculous – stupid – belief to hold. And of course it’s very general, aimed at the belief and believers as a whole. I’ve not seen FSM make any subtle distinctions between belief, motivation and action; simply that the belief is, and hence believers are, ridiculous. [Interesting development re PZ Myers yesterday.]
If the only thing you know about someone (or care about someone) is their theistic (Christian or other) belief or, in the case of A (and possibly B), that belief is actually their defining belief – FSM ridicules the whole of the person you know. As criticism goes, it’s a very blunt instrument.
If you want to criticise someone’s belief by generic ridicule, you better know a bit more about them, their motivations and actions, before implying insult to the whole person. Criticise with care.
Better still, why not try constructive criticism with someone you do have some respect for. But that’s another story.
C = Clive Andrews @CliveAndrews
B = The reverend Richard Coles @RevRichardColes
A = Dietrich Bonhoeffer #SorrydonthavehisTwitterhandle.
[Footnote – B’s own footnote was click-bait of course, but nowhere did it suggest criticism was out of bounds, nor did it suggest any exclusivity of Christian good. It simply said before you criticise – ridicule – Christian beliefs in general, spare a thought for this individual case.]