Archive for conversation

How to Have a Religious Discussion

Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , , on August 25, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Recently, I got a chance to re-watch one of my favorite movies on religion: Religulous starring Bill Maher. It’s one of my favorites because it takes a look at all religions, and many of the idiosyncrasies involved with them. It’s brilliant, in that it cuts right to the core: there is no, “Tell me about the tenants of your religion,” or, “What should people of Faith X know about Faith Y?” It dives right in, with snarky observations and sharp wit that can only come from a comic great like Maher.

My only problem with the film as a whole is that Maher is sometimes unnecessarily cruel. He goes into interviews, claiming that he wants to learn more about a religion or a culture, and yet every time, the interview descends into Bill “trapping” the interviewee into a question that they cannot answer, and then not allowing them to answer. This means that the interview is over, not because they were out of questions, or the conversation ran its course, but because the interviewee realizes that they aren’t getting a say, and would rather say nothing than look like a fool.

“You guys are smart people,” Bill continually says, yet he doesn’t let them prove it.

The interviews in this movie are a good start, but it still doesn’t address the big problem with religion: no one is listening to each other. Bill shows that while intentions are good at the start, it is human nature to be biased, especially toward something that you identify with. We start with an open mind, but before long, the things we disagree on are blown out of proportion, and we end up in a shouting match.

I believe that we can have an intelligent, rational discussion about religion, one where we can all be on the same page. There just have to be a few ground rules.

The first rule sounds obvious, but it needs to be said: Listen. The biggest problem with these sorts of discussions is that people ask a question, and they wait for an answer they want to hear, rather than the answer that is given to them. This sort of half-listening means that, while some valuable answers are being given, they don’t fit the narrative that already exists in the mind.

The next rule is one that might be a little controversial: Get right to the point. Religion is a tough topic to discuss, especially with people of other faiths. In a world of political correctness and constant preaching of tolerance, it’s tough to discuss something like religion without seeming insensitive. Sometimes tough questions need to be asked, and while there still needs to be some cordiality, any fear or intimidation must fall by the wayside.

Bill Maher was right in cutting right to the chase and asking tough questions in his interviews. Where he went wrong leads to the final rule: Don’t have an agenda. Religulous was a documentary that was meant to show that religious people are crazy people, smart people who were sucked up in the delusion of religion.

This agenda he was trying to push meant that questions needed to be especially tough for the lay-person. This also meant that anytime someone was on a right path, he needed to twist words or constantly interrupt in order to make the interviewees look stupid or uninformed. Having an agenda is the worst thing to do in any conversation.

It’s three simple rules. But they are rules that could mean the difference between a religious discussion and a religious shouting-match.

Advertisements