NEPA BlogCon Guest Post (On Civility, Rationality)

I authored a guest post for an upcoming conference, NEPA BlogCon 2012, at which I will be speaking. Discussed -- re-posted below -- are my thoughts concerning civility and the need for rational thought. Enjoy.


Justin Vacula here. I’ll be speaking at NEPA BlogCon 2012 on the ‘Using Media Effectively’ panel representing the NEPA Freethought Society Podcast which I host.

The NEPA Freethought Society Podcast is the official podcast of the NEPA Freethought Society – a local social, educational, philosophical, and activist group of non-religious persons predicated on community and support. For those unfamiliar, the term ‘freethought’ is used to describe inquiry which values logic, reason, and critical thinking rather than dogmatic thinking or belief held on the basis of mere authority.

I have discovered that podcasting is much more difficult than blogging – which I also engage in – because of the preparation involved, coordinating schedules with guests and my podcast’s media producer Jason Gogola, and the technical work (including the often tedious editing which is a precursor to publishing). The final product, though, is well worth it.

Ideas which I discuss and make available for discussion online, whether through blogging or podcasting, include discussion of the separation of church and state and arguments against religious belief – two topics which are seen by some as controversial. Although I will be bold and critical, it is with great care that I discuss these ideas. I do not dismiss arguments for religious belief out-of-hand or heap abuse on religious individuals, but rather explain my positions and respond to arguments in good faith. (Challenges, too, are always welcome and valued!)

A major goal of my work, whether it be blogging or podcast, is to attack ideas rather than persons. Many who hold cherished beliefs, especially of a religious nature, unfortunately see disagreement as disrespect and an attack on one’s character. Some even go as far as saying that religion shouldn’t even be discussed.

Discussions about religious belief can often be quite intimidating for some who have not thought deeply about particular issues or otherwise see religious belief as an important part of their lives. I was formerly a Roman Catholic who believed that people offering criticism of religion were agents of Satan, so I can understand where people are coming from. I have obviously since greatly and happily departed from that position.

One of my podcast episodes with special guest Dr. Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University, titled “Practical Strategies to Combat Faith” encourages people to engage in civil discussion [about religion] and model the sort of respectful discourse one wishes to see from others. Non-religious persons, Dr. Boghossian and I both contend, should express a willingness to change positions on any and all issues while encouraging others to hold this attitude of ‘epistemic humility.’ The same could be said for religious persons.

In discussions involving people I disagree with, I frequently highlight the importance of conversation. It is through civil and critical engagement with ideas that we can learn about others, work to dismiss stereotype-laden ideas we have, challenge our own beliefs, explore ourselves, and determine whether there are good reasons for holding particular beliefs. After all, the Bible, in 1 Peter 3:15, encourages persons to prepare reasons for their beliefs and treat others with gentleness and respect. Even atheists such as myself can agree with that sentiment!

If beliefs are justified and true, one should have nothing to fear in regards to critical engagement. If our beliefs happen to be unjustified and false after examination, we will have made progress while hopefully acquiring justified true beliefs.

My podcast allows for – as opposed to blogging — a a more intimate and thorough discussion of ideas which viewers can interact with. I encourage persons of all backgrounds and beliefs to listen. Topics such as morality, faith, race, separation of church and state, the workplace, counseling, melodic death metal, the military, comedy, and gender – no matter what one’s interests may be – should appeal to a wide audience.
I hope to see you at NEPA BlogCon 2012. I’m honored to speak at this very unique local conference which will hopefully be the first of many.