Category: The Hurt Feelings Card


“You had to be there.”

We’ve all heard it before.

We’ve all said it, and we all know the feeling. We want so badly to communicate exactly how it felt to experience a particular moment – a funny joke, a transportative live music experience, the electricity of the crowd at the game winning score – yet we can see on our listeners’ faces that our accounts of these stories are falling short. They’re unable to put themselves in our shoes and directly feel the states we’re trying to convey.

So we say, “Well, I guess you just had to be there.” But we’re left with that residual feeling… if only there were some way we could make them feel what we felt at that time, then they’d get it.

The problem is, we can’t do that. Subjective experiences by definition are limited to the subject who experiences them. Each human mind is an island unto itself; we cannot inhabit the minds of others, get into their heads and truly know what it’s like to feel what they feel, experience what they experience, think how they think.

Not that we human beings don’t have an amazing and beautiful capacity to approximate that sensation to what generally strikes us as a convincing degree. A shared concert experience, a shared tragedy, in all sorts of situations our great capacity for empathy enables us to understand that at that particular time, we all went through the same thing, or at least something so very similar that we confidently say, “I know how that feels. I’ve been through that.”

And of course through millennia of human culture and civilization we’ve established wonderfully refined methods to communicate, in both concrete and abstract ways, the richness of human experience. Poetry, music, literature, art, allegory, metaphor, humor, these are among the many devices that allow us to articulate our experiences with such power and beauty that we just know – or at least feel that we know – that we have had a common experience of the same condition.

These empathetic resonances touch our lives every day. And this experience – the experience of feeling that we have shared or at least understood the experiences of others – is real to us. And this makes it all too easy to accept the experiences of others as true. But in fact, it even actually goes beyond that.

It makes it difficult to accept the experiences of others as false.

To question another’s assertion of personal experience as truth is often seen as, at best, insinuating that they may be confused, or perhaps not too bright, but at worst, accusing them of being an outright liar. And so it becomes socially inappropriate to express vocal disbelief in the personal experience claims people make.

But there’s a problem with this. Two problems, actually.

The first is that there isn’t just a single delineating line between believable and unbelievable claims. It’s a many layered threshold; it’s a wide spectrum. It is possible that people could lie when they say, “I’m hungry.” But such a lie would be so rare – not to mention pointless – that we generally would never have reason to doubt that claim. A claim such as, “I see dead people”, on the other hand, appropriately raises the red flag of skepticism. The extraordinary nature of the claim rightfully brings upon itself increased doubt, increased skepticism, and increased disbelief. Hunger is not only a universal experience for us humans, it also has countlessly abundant evident examples in the natural world. The natural world does not, however, provide us with examples of ghosts, and further, only a certain percentage of people claim to have personally experienced them.

Which brings us to the second problem, which is that some things are demonstrably true when scrutinized using logic, reason and the scientific method (inasmuch, that is, that anything can be said to be “true”, which, in science, is never said with 100% certainty). Hunger is not only universal as an experience, it’s universal as a biological reality which can be measured, tested and validated. However, there is no reliable scientific demonstration that ghosts exist at all, let alone that even if they did the type of equipment that “ghost hunter” types use in their pseudoscientific pursuit of spirits would be the right kinds of tools for the job. There simply are no evident, naturalistic signs of the existence of ghosts.

Or gods. And here we get to the point.

“I know God is real because I experience him every day.” “I know Jesus is the Savior because I accepted Him into my heart.” “I know Mohammed is the one true prophet because I feel Allah’s presence at all times.”

We’ve all heard it before.

Chances are, if you’re a believer, you’ve probably said it, too, and may well say it many more times again. It is one of, if not the most common appeal that believers make in efforts to convince others of the truth of their beliefs. And the reason for that, as mentioned above, is that it’s a powerful appeal.

Our sense of empathy is strong, as is our reluctance to question the validity of the personal experience of others. Appealing to this empathy and respect for boundaries not only creates the appearance that “there’s really something to it” when it comes to religious beliefs, it also corners the skeptics into being the bad guys if they dare question the factuality of those assertions.

How dare we disrespect others’ beliefs!

Here’s how: Because they have no place in the discussion of what is actually true. Because the things we can recognize and demonstrate as being true are, by definition, not subjective, but objective and demonstrable under the scrutiny of multiple observers.

Not only that, but there is plenty of evidence that what actually can be demonstrated about personal religious experience claims is that they are, practically without fail, limited to the cultural parameters in which the subject was raised. When a farm boy from Nebraska “sees God”, we can be quite certain that that god will not be a Hindu god such asVishnu or Shiva. The personal experiences of “God”, or “Allah”, or “Vishnu”, or whatever that people have are, almost without fail, confined to the strict limitations of their culturally familiar religions. So objectively speaking, is it more reasonable to assume that most Americans who claim to be experiencing Jesus are actually experiencing Jesus, or that they believe they’re experiencing Jesus because they’ve grown up in a majority Christian nation, raised by Christian families?

Furthermore, if we start from the default position of atheism (as we all are born atheists, and are only taught religion later in life), which personal experience claims are we to believe? People of different religions assert that their own is the only true one. But given that we cannot access any other individual’s personal experiences, how should we determine whether the Christian’s “only true religion” (or for that matter, which of the hundreds of Christian denominations), or the Muslim’s “only true religion”, and so on, is actually the right one? If the argument is limited to the subjective personal experience, then it can never be demonstrated as true to an outside observer.

And so all such religious truth claims, all of which conflict with each other, are equal in the eyes of the neutral observer. And, given that there’s no evidence for their veracity to be found in the natural world, they’re all equally unlikely, equally implausible, equally unbelievable.

And that’s why, when believers ask me (as one did recently) questions like, “Doesn’t personal experience matter? Doesn’t it count for anything?” My answer is:

No.

Not when it comes to demonstrating the truth of your claims. It doesn’t mean a damn thing.

 

[via atheist-community.org]

I came to know who Tracie Harris is by watching her frequent appearances as one of the co-hosts on the excellent Austin-based TV show The Atheist Experience, and more recently listening to her on the also great Godless Bitches podcast.

Just now I stumbled across the comic strip above, which I immediately wanted to re-post here. Wanting to properly credit it, I tracked it back to its source, and it was really cool to discover Tracie is the author, and that there is a whole collection of her work at the Atheist Community of Austin site. If you liked this one, go check out the rest of her stuff!

Apparently the faith of believers is so strong that they have to suppress secular voices and abuse governmental powers to reinforce religious privilege and favoritism in order to keep it intact:

Pennsylvania Town Rejects Atheist ‘There Are No Gods’ Banner in Holiday Display

Published December 03, 2011

| Associated Press

ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. –  A western Pennsylvania mayor refused to include a banner from an atheist group that says “there are no gods” as part of a holiday display that includes a Nativity scene, which has been erected annually on city property for decades.

Hundreds of people turned out to support the mayor’s decision to go ahead with the display Friday, which also includes symbols pertaining to Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and secular symbols, including Santa Claus, a snowman and a Christmas tree.

The city about 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh added secular symbols to the display this year after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained last year that it amounted to a government endorsement of religion.

Seeking to head off a similar challenge, the mayor also invited the Madison, Wis.-based group to contribute something to the modified display, so the group mailed a sign that read: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Mayor Tony Court said he’s yet to receive the banner in the mail, but he refuses to add it when it arrives. “It violates the First Amendment. It’s endorsing atheism,” he said, adding that the crGeche “is a statue. It’s not a doctrinal statement.”

This mayor must have some moon-sized balls to actually invoke the First Amend ment in the name of religious suppression.

The tactics employed by the defenders of religious privilege: Never surprising, always (like their unfounded claims) unbelievable.

Man, I miss Zappa. Love him or hate him, few have brought the brutal – and necessary – honesty as forthright as he used to.

Oh, Christians in the U.S. have it so rough.

Everywhere they look, they see their “right” to flex their majority muscle and discriminate against non-believers and other non-Christians being assailed.

They whine about the “War on Christmas”, when, every year, Christmas positively dominates the social, popular and commercial culture throughout all of November and December.

They cry about gender and sexual orientation rights being “shoved down their throats” (the phrase they usually use – I’ll spare the Freudian analysis for now), going so far as to legislate their “right” to bully gay kids.

The problem with all of this is that none of these so-called “rights” are rights at all. They are the benefits Christians have traditionally received from preferential treatment resulting from their majority position of power and the subsequent stronghold Christianity has over American society and culture.

And now that their privilege is being challenged by increasingly vocal minorities of nonbelievers and members of other religions, who are calling for a more fair and level cultural playing field, some Christians are quick and vociferous in playing the hurt feelings card and drumming up false allegations of anti-Christian discrimination.

Take Mathew D. Staver, chairman of the right wing fundamentalist culture war organization known as the Liberty Counsel. According to Christian Today, he

said that the [American Humanist Association’s] campaign was a crass attempt at restricting the religious freedom of Christians passionate about Christmas. As the birthdate of Christianity, he said no other holiday deserved more public worship. […]

Staver said his organization fights censorship of the holiday’s Christian traditions with its “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign,” now in its ninth year. The initiative educates society and businesses on the Christian faith, he said, ensuring they keep its part in Christmas intact through litigation if they don’t recognize believers’ right to religious freedom.

“People either censor Christmas out of ignorance concerning religious law or they worry they may offend someone else,” Staver said. “Retailers, meanwhile, should not profit off Christmas while pretending it doesn’t exist.” […]

Staver countered that groups like AHA shouldn’t analyze Christmas given they lacked compassion for its spiritual basis. This fundamental separation, he said, meant that they often disrespected the rights of Christians practicing their faith.

“I think a campaign like this shows how bankrupt the AHA is by trying to offend people by secularizing a holiday like this,” Staver said. “They have a right to their own viewpoint but the timing is very inappropriate. It shows how out of step they are from the rest of society.”

So what horrific action did the American Humanist Association pursue to “restrict religious freedom”, to “censor Christmas out of ignorance” in such a “disrespectful”, “bankrupt”, and “inappropriate way?

Well, take a look:

That’s right, they simply asked people not to discriminate against atheists.

As with all things pertaining to religion: Simply unbelievable.

This story from the Mid Ohio Atheists (via Ophelia Benson, via Greta Christina) is the latest in the ongoing saga of American billboard companies (in this case the Lind Media Company – you can e-mail the Vice President here) impeding free expression by censoring atheist and secular messages:

We spent several weeks exchanging emails, planning locations, and reviewing the graphics for the Billboards.  In late October everything was ready to go.  They had the final Graphic, had done the mock ups and we had approved them.  Everything seemed to be going off with out a hitch and I was extremely pleased with the company.

Fast forward to today, November 22nd 2011.   This morning I recieved an email from the Vice President of LIND advising me of [their refusal to honor the agreement]. […]

I got a little sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  See I’ve always been an out spoken Atheist, as long as I’ve been an Atheist.  I’m use to people wanting to talk, argue, or save my soul, but I had yet to ever feel the sting of discrimination.  I swallowed the lump in my throat and sent an email back to the Maura S Siegenthaler asking her why they choose to wait till just before the Holiday when we had months of contact with their company and they had our graphics for weeks. I then attempted to call her but was told she was unavailable.  The following reply reinforced my initial gut feeling, it really was because we are Atheists spreading an Atheist message.

Please read the full post for more details. After you do, you may want to consider contacting the company to let them know how you feel about this. That’s what I just did.

Below is the text of the e-mail I just sent to Vice President of Lind Media Maura Siegenthaler (mss@lindoutdoor.com) in support of the Mid Ohio Atheists. I urge you to write to her as well, and you are welcome to copy my message, change it, or add to what I wrote as you like. More contact info for the company can be found at the bottom of the Mid Ohio Atheists post.

Dear Maura Siegenthaler

I’m writing to urge you and the Lind Media Company to reconsider your last minute refusal to honor your agreement with the Mid Ohio Atheists to put up two of their billboards. As you apparently do not hesitate to put up pro-religion billboards, the only plausible explanations for your action are either fear of backlash from a largely religious community and/or plain and simple bigotry against the non religious.

I hope, at least, it’s only the former.

While as a private business you are certainly within your rights to choose your content, and while you may not agree with non believers, refusing to put up a simple message by a group with a point of view, which harms noone and is a simple exercise in free expression as it pertains to religion, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, is extremely disappointing, disgraceful, and goes directly against the grain of the principles and rights the United States is founded upon.

I do hope you’ll reconsider.

Unreasonable Faith digs up “the good stuff” regarding the addictive nature of getting offended. Just go read it.

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