Have you ever been in discussion with someone who holds a different opinion to you, on a subject that you are both are passionate about? Perhaps this conversation has taken place on the internet? Or by text? Have you ever had your friend or acquaintance pass on some quotes that contradict your position by way of end note to the discussion? I have.
Being a Christian, I have had people sending me quotes saying that ‘religion is evil’ or ‘those who have faith throw away their intelligence’. When this has happened they have been very nice about it. Usually they are sending me something they think I would find interesting, or they are highlighting the fact that an intelligent and influential person agrees with them. As a result these questions occur to me: do they agree with the sentiment of the quotes? And, are the quotes meant to aid their argument? I’ll ask these questions about a few quotes that can often find their way to Christians:
- ‘Faith means not wanting to know what is true.’ — Friedrich Nietzsche
- ‘Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.’ – Robert Anton Wilson
- ‘Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.’ — Kurt Vonnegut
- ‘Religion is the most malevolent of all mind viruses.’ – Arthur C. Clarke
Do they agree with the sentiment of the quotes?
This question makes me laugh, because these quotes can come across so harsh when I don’t think it is normally (I hope) meant by the sender. Even if a friend or acquaintance is violently anti-belief they are usually respectful and value me as a person. Therefore they will find ways of saying things that are not harsh or offensive. For example, a friend might say to me ‘I think religion causes wars’. Fair enough, I can engage with that. But I wouldn’t expect a friend or acquaintance to say ‘I think you are more likely to cause a war because you are religious.’ That’s quite harsh and extremely judgmental. (I have never been told the latter, thankfully!)
When I am sent quotes like these, however, it gives you the harsh side of someone’s opinion. It is evident that the sender agrees with the quotes, and so, from looking at the above I can deduce that the sender believes I, a) don’t want to know the truth, b) I have put to death my intelligence, c) I am ‘terrifying and absolutely vile, and, d) have contracted a malevolent mind virus.
Flattering isn’t it?
That’s why it makes me laugh, because put like that it sounds almost ridiculous because it’s so insulting. And it’s also funny because often I don’t think the sender ever has the intention to insult! Therefore, I think we must remember to take this into account and not allow ourselves to get hot under the collar.
Although I would say to potential readers who are prone to quoting their favourite authors, celebrities and scholars, try and be sensitive and consider how you might come across!
Are the quotes meant to aid their argument?
So, on the other hand, are the quotes meant to aid their argument? I really don’t see how. Because I can also quote famous and influential people:
- ‘A string of opinions no more constitutes faith, than a string of beads constitutes holiness.’ – John Wesley
- ‘While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.’ – George Washington
- ‘Today not only in philosophy but in politics, government, and individual morality, our generation sees solutions in terms of synthesis and not absolutes. When this happens, truth, as people have always thought of truth, has died.’ – Francis Schaeffer
- ‘Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.’ – C. S. Lewis
- ‘Atheists themselves used to be very comfortable in maintaining that the universe is eternal and uncaused. The problem is that they can no longer hold that position because modern evidence that the universe started with the Big Bang. So they can’t legitimately object when I make the same claim about God-he is eternal and he is uncaused.’ – William Lane Craig
So that cannot be the goal of the sender. Is it that the other person wants to me to know that intelligent and prominent people agree with them, and not me? Again, it would be unkind of me to think so little of my friend or acquaintance, but even if this were one of their motives, it can never add anything to their argument because, as shown above, many famous and influential people have disagreed with them.
My last guess is that my friend or acquaintance would like me to engage with the truth claims made in each quote. So I will attempt to link to pages which may do that better than I:
- Faith means not wanting to know what is true. — Friedrich Nietzsche
- “Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.” – Robert Anton Wilson
- Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile. — Kurt Vonnegut
- “Religion is the most malevolent of all mind viruses.” – Arthur C. Clarke
Richard Dawkins famously popularised the idea that religion is a meme (An element of a culture or behaviour that may be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, esp. imitation.) or even a ‘mind-parasite’, below the link will take you to a friendly debate between Dawkins and a Christian professor.