Myles was walking in the park when he met Jackson, who initiated a discussion about the dog accompanying Myles. The conversation escalated and they found some common interests which they were passionate about. They didn’t have much trouble connecting with each other. After a quarter of an hour has passed, Myles reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. Jackson stared at Myles with eyes wide-open.
“Oh I apologize” Said Myles, reaching into the pocket again “Would you like one as well?”
“Of course not! Why would you ask me such a thing?”
“Your surprised look suggested that my manners were flawed and I should’ve treated you to a cigarette.”
Jackson explained that his shock was due to the action of smoking a cigarette itself. After all, it was immoral, wrong and certainly not to be done in a public place. He obviously had strong feelings about this. Myles couldn’t understand why exactly it is such a crime to smoke a cigarette. Jackson let out a sigh and said:
“Because Mr.John said so”
“Who’s Mr.John?” Asked Myles
“What do you mean, ‘Who’s Mr.John?’; it’s obvious!”
“Not to me. I don’t know the person you speak of”
“Mr.John is the one who says that smoking cigarettes is wrong”
“I understand that Mr.John i someone very important to you. Why should I listen to him?”
Jackson got very annoyed with Myles’ question. It was painfully obvious, that he should listen to Mr.John. Everyone should listen to Mr.John! It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.
“Because he says so! Mr.John told me that smoking cigarettes is evil and disgusting. Mr.John knows everything. If he says that something is bad – it is bad! If he says something is good – it is good! It’s just the way it is.”
Myles was still not convinced by Jackson’s attempt of persuasion.
“That doesn’t really answer my question. I don’t know if he knows everything. For example this cigarette. Can you tell me why Mr.John says it is wrong to smoke it?” He asked
“I don’t know that. But it’s obvious that it is wrong.”
“It’s not obvious to me.”
Jackson continued to talk about Mr.John and his admiration for the mysterious wise man. He explained how wonderful and good to everyone Mr.John is and how everyone should accept everything he says, because he can’t be wrong. Mr.John knows everything and is right about all things. Including the fact, that smoking cigarettes is evil. All this time Myles was growing tired of those claims and lit another cigarette. He couldn’t accept the fact that Jackson was pointing out his evildoing, but wasn’t able to present a single piece of evidence to support his claim.
“I’m growing tired of your words, Jackson. You claim I am doing evil by smoking, yet you fail to persuade me because you can’t show me any rational argument. You speak in a language I can’t understand. I don’t know Mr.John. I don’t know why you trust him so much. Why should I listen to you, since you don’t know me all that well and you refuse to give me any solid reason for the claims you make.”
“If you don’t listen to Mr.John it will end badly for you. If we stop listening to him, he will stop helping us.”
“Frankly, dear Jackson, I really doubt the existence of your dear Mr.John. He sounds too great for me. I think you made him up.”
Myles said his goodbyes and left. Jackson stood alone in the park for a while, calling out to his departed companion about the need for his repentance and trust in Mr.John but Myles was already gone. He left with a third cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.
Even though the story of Myles and Jackson seems to be exaggerated, I can’t help but notice that many Christian people act in a similar manner. Their religious beliefs are strong and unchallenged, so it becomes obvious to them that everyone ought to believe what they do. Consequently, they abandon any reasonable enquiry because all challenge to faith is (in their mind) equal to abandoning it. Before you accuse me of being unorthodox and unfaithful and close the tab on your browser, let me make two points: 1. I do not claim that having religious beliefs is wrong. I have those myself 2. I do not claim that those beliefs cannot influence your moral, ethical and political claims and attitudes. My own faith in Christ does influence what I think of the world in all of those areas.
Let’s look closer at Jackson. He has a strong belief that smoking cigarettes is wrong. The reason for this belief is that Mr.John told him so. For Jackson this is a legitimate reason, because he (apparently) knows Mr.John well enough to know that his judgement is good and his knowledge is sufficient. Jackson lives his life according to the teaching of Mr.John and he trusts his leadership; and apparently, it works out pretty well. The problem arose when Jackson met Myles. Myles had no knowledge of Mr.John (yet Jackson acted as if everyone knew Mr.John) and refused to take unsupported by reason advice based on an opinion of a stranger. And can anyone blame him? It would be wrong to do so. Cigarettes were calming and relaxing for Myles. He paid for them with the money he made and deserved them. Perhaps he was not aware of the health risks that come with smoking tobacco. He disregarded something that could’ve been a good peace of advice. He can’t be blamed for that.
This story sets a framework for current situation of religious people in a very diverse setting. With understanding that beliefs about God and spirituality are important, we need to realize that saying to somebody with a different set of beliefs “because God said so” as a final statement is wrong and quite insulting. There are two ways of escape from this problem. One of them is a devotion to massive evangelization. If ones beliefs are so strong that others ought to adopt them, he or she should make his or her life goal to convince everyone to Christianity. This is a legitimate course of action which I find very honorable, right and I fully support. However, I will not deal with this right now. I am not an evangelist nor a missionary. There is a second way.
The second way has a different approach. It comes from an assumption that we ought to do ethics as a community and our communities are very diverse. I don’t think I can personally convince everyone in my setting to Christianity. That’s why I abandon the first approach (notice that sharing faith is still important. Simply because evangelization is not my personal calling doesn’t mean I am not willing to speak about and share my faith.) and take a different strategy: presenting reasonable arguments and engaging in constructive ethical enquiry with acceptance that not everybody believes what I believe. There is great importance in the fact that there is no in-between of those two approaches for all who want to take part in the public life and decision making while keeping their religious beliefs involved in those. One has to either evangelize or use reason when it comes to public matters (not to say that evangelization is unreasonable. It’s just a different approach that requires different methodology). If one believes that a maxim should be universalized and everyone ought to accept and adopt his or her opinion he or she has to present solid evidence for his or her claims and back them up with good argumentation.
The next question to ask is regarding argumentation. Argumentation is not ridicule, personal attacks, and limiting self to quoting the Bible (this one is quite tricky. It can be used as means of persuasion in some cases). If I believe that abortion should not be legal, I can’t just call everyone who had an abortion a murderer, post pictures with rhetorical questions, protest abortion clinics, and do all of this in the name of God. The reason why I can’t do that is very simple: I will look pretty ridiculous and nobody (except people who already believe the same things I do and don’t need to be convinced) will actually listen to me and give my words any credibility. I don’t think that’s a desired outcome. However, if I could come up with good arguments why it is wrong, what are the possible solutions and alternatives, my voice gains volume and can be heard. Perhaps if Jackson told Myles of the dangers of smoking, lung cancer, heart disease, Myles would realize the dangers and quit smoking. Sometimes that is not enough. If Myles was addicted and couldn’t quit even if he wanted to, Jackson could search for alternatives to smoking, other solutions and genuinely try to help his new friend. Instead, Jackson kept being shocked and treated Myles as an inferior, because he didn’t know Mr.John. As the story ends, we see how pointless their discussion was. It only made the matters worse.
With all of this said I will point out how does this approach defend Christianity. Unquestioned beliefs lead to fundamentalism, which leads to fanaticism, which leads to often horrible consequences (we can ask history to teach us of horrible atrocities committed by people of great faith, but lack of reason and questioning). If the believer is challenging his or her beliefs, chances of making great mistakes are significantly decreased. If for some reason he or she gets the belief that God gave him or her a revelation which (in his or her understanding) seemed to suggest that he or she should do something immoral, he or she will question such belief and eventually will come to his or her senses and understand the truth behind the revelation instead of accepting it uncritically. Reason and critical inquiry can in fact save souls.
When we want to present the public to our religious convictions, we can’t assume anyone will listen to us because we know Mr.John. We can either introduce them to him or argument our beliefs. However, this doesn’t mean we should leave our Bibles somewhere hidden in a dresser. Bring your Bible to the public. But bring also reason, respect, good thinking and self-criticism. This is especially important to Christians, who make resembling Jesus their priority. Key to this is humility and honesty. There is no humility and no honesty in fundamentalism. If anyone truly believes and wants to universalize his or her maxim, he or she will treat diversity seriously and try to overcome it by the use of respectful debate based on critical thinking.