Respecting the Right to Believe, without being uncritical about It

Vermeer The Allegory of the Faith

Image via Wikipedia

My view as a skeptic is that the right of others to believe as they choose should indeed be respected, but let’s not confuse the right to believe with uncritical respect for or assent by silence of others about the belief itself.

Also, in respecting the rights of others to believe, I claim for myself the right to free expression, of free speech, and the right to respectfully inform others to the best of my understanding, without bullying or condescension, by whatever lawful means available, when a claim leading to a belief can and has been shown erroneous, or at least inconsistent with itself or the truth of what it concerns.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, though, and needed to get my thoughts in order, hence this particular post.

It’s not my right, nor my interest, to coerce or deceive someone into believing or not believing something. I’m not out to make people “not believe,” or any similarly absurd canard.

My focus is on the claims themselves, not the beliefs. Nor is it my interest to relieve someone of the burden of faith, only giving them the means to relieve themselves of the burden of credulity, to accept things by way of good judgment on the basis of the reasons given for them.

To me, dogma, in the sense of holding a claim, proposition, or principle infallibly true on the pronouncements of authority, is anathema, and its antithesis is modern skepticism. Dogma excludes the freedom to question.

It’s mistaken to confuse claims with beliefs, or faith with trust. They are very different things indeed, as I will attempt in my own clumsy way to explain, my somewhat limited understanding being ever more evident as I continue.

I distinguish faith from trust, and when I use these words, I have very specific meanings in mind.

A claim, simply put, is a proposition or statement that something is true or false, at least to a degree, whereas a belief is the acceptance of that claim, a position taken on it, whether this acceptance is critical or uncritical in nature.

Faith, as I use the term, involves belief without (or even in spite of) sufficient evidence, and in this sense is inherently non-rational if not irrational at times.

Trust, in the sense of putting stock in the relevant and true expertise, or in the friendship and the general goodwill of others we know, is based upon evidence, the evidence of reliable honesty and past successful performance or advice of those we come to call trustworthy.

I’m hoping that this entry has made clear my perspective on this, and though I can’t speak for other skeptics without their say-so, I strongly suspect that I’m not at all exceptional in this.

There’s no silly rule saying that you have to be a baby-eating ogre, or at least a jerk, to be skeptical.