Should We Only Focus on the Tip of the Iceberg? September 22, 2010

Should We Only Focus on the Tip of the Iceberg?

For all that we argue about, it’s all too easy to ignore the multitude of things we all have in common. It always feels good to stand your ground on any opinions you hold in the minority — and I’m not saying we’re not right on those issues — but I don’t think we can dismiss those bridge-builders who choose to focus on everyone’s similarities.

David Hayward makes this point in a much more eloquent way:

The problem is that we are not aware of, or do not care to see, or are completely blind to the connections, to our unity.

This is for all kinds of reasons. Mostly our conditioning. Followed by our unwillingness to become aware of our conditioning.

(via nakedpastor)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Siamang

    I like that image.

  • William

    I thought Freud described it quite well: The narcissism of small differences

  • As someone in an inter-“faith” marriage (or whatever you call it when an atheist and person of faith are married), finding the similarities isn’t optional. And you’re right — I don’t think it means backing down from what we believe is right (or know is right), but I think we can do it in ways that respect one another’s basic humanity. Granted, it can be harder when there’s no prior relationship and the person engaging is antagonistic, but I appreciate people who are willing to put the effort in to meaningful discussion about differences rather than simply noting the most polarizing topics.

    And I love this drawing.

  • Bob

    Yet, it’s the rational thinker who can comprehend this analogy, not the religious (or, at least, fundamentalist) thinker.

    Much of what is passing for ‘Christianity’ today is zero-sum, I-can-be-saved-only-if-you-are-damned claptrap. Anything that doesn’t fit inside that religious pigeonhole is deemed evil and/or immoral.

  • NewEnglandBob

    …but I don’t think we can dismiss those bridge-builders who choose to focus on everyone’s similarities

    There are those who do that in an insidious manner, such as Chris Mooney who maliciously stabs his atheist cohorts in the back to make his points. His bridges are rotten.

  • Jude

    *I* might know that I have plenty in common with theists, but they don’t know it. Now that I no longer work at a school, I’ve thought about “coming out” as an atheist to the overly religious school secretaries. Their reactions would be interesting.

  • Ash

    Well sure, it’d be great if we could all recognize the things that unify us. The problem is that some differences of belief, regardless of how small they are in proportion to our similarities, leads a lot of people to think other people are dirty, sinful, evil, and unworthy of basic rights, in some cases the right to life. Or it gives them license (in their minds) to enforce their standards on everyone. In general, it is theists who are causing all the divisive strife, and so I think it’s primarily their responsibility to address it. I’m not holding my breath.

  • I agree that the drawing is accurate from the atheist perspective. From the religious perspective, the believer would have an infinite amount of drawing that only applies to him/her (and not the atheist). That is the main difference between the two perspectives. The sky crane and the infinite eternity that awaits those that believe the right things.

  • Like.

  • Silent Service

    There’s also the fun fact that on the religious side of the divide there are so many people who will never compromise so they tear down any bridge foundation on their side that more moderate voices would help build. On our side are the people who have just gotten so frustrated with the uncompromising fundamentalists over there that we no longer value the effort to build those bridges.

    I agree that bridges can be important, but sometimes you need a beachhead in their territory before you can even begin to lay the foundation for a bridge. Since they don’t seem willing to compromise anymore I’m starting to think storming the beach is the only option left.

    Hopefully I’m just having a very cynical day.

  • I agree that we need to focus on what we have in common more often than what we don’t have in common. I find I need to remind myself that sometimes, because I get too spirited in debates. But this image reminded me of a conversation I had with a skeptic asking me why I focused more attention on atheism than over-all skepticism. My answer was the following:

    “If you were to stop and talk to any random person on the street and say you don’t believe in ghosts or psychics, you wouldn’t get very many ‘He’s crazy’ looks, even if the person themselves believed in ghosts. On the other hand, if you did the same but claimed to not believe in God, many more people would look at you as if you had sprouted a second head.”

    Until the believers can look at us non-believers as having a valid viewpoint, we are not on the same iceberg in their minds. You can’t work with someone who doesn’t want to meet you halfway.

  • Roxane

    As a purely practical matter, one has to build bridges–with colleagues at work, for instance, or members of one’s extended family. I like to think of mine as a drawbridge that I can pull up after-hours.

  • I don’t know. I like the cartoon, but I don’t think that atheists are generally the ones who have a problem recognizing our common humanity. I don’t see myself as fundamentally different from theists, but they seem to feel that they’re fundamentally different from me.

    I think we all start off in the same place, and we’re all human beings, but I will admit it is sometimes hard to see that when people express beliefs that are, quite frankly, extremely foreign and bizarre. It’s almost like, “Are we really members of the same species, or did I drop in from some other planet?” The more I contemplate religion, the more this feeling can be heightened. I want to see our similarities, but all the supernatural stuff gets in the way. I find it hard to have meaningful dialogue with people who seem to be on completely different wavelengths. I mean, how do you talk to people who interpret everything they see in a supernatural way?

    The cartoon also fails to address that there’s quite a spectrum between “atheist” and “believer.” Some believers are much closer to atheists than other believers. I don’t consider that I have much in common with fundamentalists of any stripe, but it’s much easier to regconize similarities between myself and liberal believers. There aren’t that many differences between me and a believer who’s Unitarian or UCC, despite the fact that they may have some supernatural beliefs.

  • Sven

    I’m sorry. I’m much to busy being a parasite to society. :^)

  • Richard Wade

    Thank you David Hayward for this excellent drawing, and thank you Hemant for publishing it here.

    When I am trying to reach out to theists who demonize and dehumanize atheists, I talk about particular things that we have in common to which they have emotional attachments, attachments that are just as strong as their religious beliefs:

    I talk about my daughter, my wife and my mother, how much I love them, and how I would sacrifice whatever is necessary for their well-being. Then I talk about my friends and how lucky I am to know such caring people. Finally I talk about my wanting to participate in my community, to work with anyone else who wants to make it a better place for everyone.

    I show them my humanity. I show them my vulnerability. They see that they have nothing to fear from me. Our shared human traits, wanting to love and be loved, wanting to participate, those traits are the solid surface just beneath the water. I walk right down into that stretch between us and I ignore my wet feet. They start to realize that the water is only ankle deep; we’re not going to drown if we come close enough to understand each other.

    Once in a while, one of them will take a few steps toward me. That is worth it.

    They don’t discard their belief in their god, they only discard their belief that atheists are evil and inhuman. That’s the only thing I’m really interested in.

  • Rich Wilson

    I had that though when when reading http://patriotpost.us/opinion/william-murchison/2010/09/21/atheism-what-a-joke/

    The atheist mode is pure assertion. It’s, shut up, listen here, I’m giving you numskulls The Facts.

    In the comments I say that’s how I would describe the ‘religious mode’.

    And much later someone else I assume replying to me

    Rich: He’s locked up on the decrepid nature of Man so much so that he cannot distinguish between Christ and Western Civ. Churchianity.

    Completely missing the point, and confusing Christ with ‘religious mode’. I’m saying nothing about Christ- it’s his self acclaimed spokespeople I’m debating.

    Quite simply, I can only shake my head at how they can not grasp the obvious, and I know they’re doing the same. The only difference, is that I’m not sure they realize we’re both shaking our heads.

  • @Anna You may feel that way, but realize that you may be the exception to the rule if you view atheists as humans with differing opinions.

    It has been my personal experience that many theists will judge me as a whole person based solely on my lack of belief. Most atheists (again anecdotal so I know this could be untrue) will view theists as people first and possibly misguided in their belief of a higher power.

    Again, there are exceptions on both sides, but from my experiences and those of the atheists I know, the rule of thumb is everyday theists think atheists are not good people. They may not explicitly think they are bad people, but they frequently can’t think of atheists as good people without God.

  • Tyro

    I totally agree but am not sure I entirely understand what consequences we should get.

    I’ve heard Christians come onto forums or blogs and say that this constant discussion of the problems with religion looked awfully dull and ignored our similarities, much like this cartoon.

    Well no, it just means that we gathered to discuss a single topic. We talk about other topics in other places and when we do, we don’t bring up religion at all. In fact, we probably know full well we’re partnering with a majority of Christians.

    I care about Climate Change but it would be ridiculous to talk about it here just as it would be ridiculous to debate religion at a forum discussing CC.

    Yes of course we have a lot in common. So what? Who but some badly demented Christians believed we don’t?

  • This is a great point. There are many, many thoughtful theists who actually struggle with and try to understand their religion share with atheists a rejection of groupthink and especially mindless consumerism and materialism. These are people who think about their values, even if we think they have wrong conclusions. That rejection of consumerism and groupthink (again, in thoughtful theists, often ones in a minority) is really strong common ground, and it’s not addressed nearly enough.

  • Erin

    I agree that Christians should not be afraid of and certainly should not hate atheists. That’s crazy! How can anyone claim to be Christian and yet hate other people? I think Christians and atheists both get on each other’s nerves trying to “save” the other from what they believe is the other side’s wrong views, and both do so religiously. We have to remember, though, that love, our common humanity, and our desire for the other person’s good should always be our foundation. We certainly should not stand there glowering at each other like they do in the cartoon! Where will that get us??

    @Rubbs That’s an interesting idea – can we be “good people without God.” That brings up the question of what “good” is. A cursory view of even just the major religions (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu) will show pretty wildly varying ideas of what “good” is. That may be an interesting place to start a conversation with theists/Christians (since Christians are the majority of the theists we come across) — on what basis do you define “good” and how does it correspond to how Christians define “good”? There may be more common ground than either side at first realizes…

  • Bob

    Let’s take the tip of the iceberg/island comparison a notch further. First, absent diving in to the water and swimming across, you want to know more about the other island. Are the people there friendly? What’s the place look like?

    And that requires you to have good eyesight, or at least a telescope with a clean lens. You have to be a good observer, as Galileo was as he took notes about the moon, and the moons of Jupiter. And then you have to be able to draw the right conclusions from your observations.

    Perhaps part of the problem is that some of the participants view inclusion as ‘leaving my island’ to journey to a place they don’t really know all that well (though, as Richard Wade points out, actually know better than they think), and that abandoning the island means being untrue/disloyal to what that island represents.

  • definantnonbeliever

    I don’t see it at all, where are the prisons full of victimless crime convicts, the wars, the sacrificial fires, the theft of public funds, the over population, anti-science propagandists that deny the melting of the iceberg, etc.? We may be on the same planet but it doesn’t look remotely like the same planet to the opposing perspectives. If it were a canoe they’d be paddling in opposite directions or attempting to disable the counter force to progress and survival.

  • Sackbut

    I think Jeff P’s point is very important: this picture is from the atheist perspective. Much of the atheist argument can be seen as trying to convince the theist that there is this huge amount of commonality: atheists are ethical and moral, awe and artistic inspiration arise in all people regardless of religious beliefs, etc.

  • Oh, man, I love this image. It says it so clearly. Linking it for my own blog (which I co-author with my Baptist girlfriend, precisely so we can illustrate the point the picture makes). Thanks for posting this, Hemant.

  • Sackbut says

    I think Jeff P’s point is very important: this picture is from the atheist perspective.

    Given that Hayward is a theist, I’m not sure why you have come to this conclusion.

  • Per Edman

    Sure we’re all human, but that’s not much of a common ground when we’re discussing something rather more complicated than consumption, digestion, respiration and defacation.

  • Maybe someone already responded to this:

    Much of what is passing for ‘Christianity’ today is zero-sum, I-can-be-saved-only-if-you-are-damned claptrap.

    But according to the internal logic of Christianity (which of course is false, but let’s think about it from their perspective), this is true. Anything else would be contradictory to the basic premises of their belief system.

  • Richard L

    So long as we’re not down by the waterline trying to hack the iceberg apart – I see no problem in focusing on our differences. Trying to make their side erode away is important, I think, because faith is a bad solution to the problem of not knowing the answer to certain questions.

  • @Alise,
    I think he is a Deist. He just hasn’t admitted it to himself yet.

  • On all the issues that I’m interested in discussing, I’m largely at odds with most believers. I’m talking about things like, the existence of god, human origins of religion, evolution etc.

  • @Anna You may feel that way, but realize that you may be the exception to the rule if you view atheists as humans with differing opinions.

    Oh, I’m an atheist. Sorry if that wasn’t clear, but we’re on the same side. I agree with you. Many believers appear to see atheists as defective in some way, like we’re inferior to them because we don’t believe in gods. It’s not all theists, but it’s certainly most conservative Christians and many of the moderate ones. But it’s not just that they think we’re not good people. They think everyone is inherently a bad person, including themselves. Many of them believe that they’re riddled with original sin and broken and depraved, and that’s why everyone needs to accept Jesus.

    I mean, how does one deal with that mindset? It’s fine and dandy to say that we’re all human beings, but they have such a low opinion of humanity that I just don’t see how I could have much in common with them. It’s sad and depressing, and I find myself disheartened by the vastness of our differences. How do I get to the point where I can see people with those kinds of beliefs as similar to me? We’re standing on the two different tips of the iceberg, but it’s also like we’re speaking two different languages. I don’t know how to communicate with people like that. Is it even possible to have a mutually respectful relationship if the other person thinks you’re damned for all eternity?

  • Nordog

    “Much of what is passing for ‘Christianity’ today is zero-sum, I-can-be-saved-only-if-you-are-damned claptrap.

    But according to the internal logic of Christianity (which of course is false, but let’s think about it from their perspective), this is true. Anything else would be contradictory to the basic premises of their belief system.”

    As a Catholic I gotta say that the statement/idea that “I-can-be-saved-only-if-you-are-damned” is foriegn to me and everyone I know.

  • Deepak Shetty

    I think the cartoon misses the point – Its not how much we have in common , but what thats important.

    Someone else believes in a theistic God – I don’t care about that difference. Someone thinks Baseball is better than Cricket – who cares? But someone would deny rights to say gay people – then even if that is the only difference then its a pretty major one , no?

  • AxeGrrl

    Richard Wade wrote:

    They don’t discard their belief in their god, they only discard their belief that atheists are evil and inhuman. That’s the only thing I’m really interested in.

    So eloquently (and succinctly) said Richard 🙂

  • Bob

    @Nordog:

    Re: Zero-Sum Saved/Damned …

    I was raised Catholic. If there is a God, I much prefer one whose ultimate plan is to save everyone, not one who has some kind of ‘acceptable losses’ program (i.e., an all-powerful, all-knowing being who PLANS to get outmaneuvered and snookered by an evil nemesis he created).

    But in conversations with evangelical coworkers and on other forums, the zero-sum view has come across loud and clear. One person (a Methodist) insisted there was a line in the sand as far as Christ’s redemptive power – do x, and you’re damned, no ifs buts or ands. Another refused to consider the question, ‘what if the final judgment came, and you found yourself standing beside your worst enemy in life, and God said, ‘You get in only if you forgive each other.’

    That person steadfastly insisted that his worst enemy could not, would not ever be there. Couldn’t happen. God doesn’t work like that.

    More recently, one Christian told me I couldn’t believe in evolution and be a Christian.

    I just keep running into the nut fringe.

  • Secular Stu

    Sackbut says

    I think Jeff P’s point is very important: this picture is from the atheist perspective.

    Given that Hayward is a theist, I’m not sure why you have come to this conclusion.

    I think it’d be more accurate to say this represents the typical atheist perspective, and is not the typical theist perspective.

    Given the pope’s recent comments, if it showed Christian perspective, the guy on the right would be Hitler, and they’d be praising a magical carpenter for the water in between.

  • @Anna

    Oh, I’m sorry, looking back now, I should have read your comment more carefully.

    Let that be a lesson, never reply until you’ve read it twice :/

    ~Rubbs

  • stogoe

    Ignoring real differences doesn’t make happy magic sparkleponies and smiletime hug-land fly out of my butt and usher in a new era of paradise for all people. Fundamental differences in belief can’t be pasted over by group hugs and feel-good obfuscation.

  • muggle

    I’ve got to agree with stogo and deepak much as I’m always going on with not being anti-theist.

    The thing is, basically, yes, as humans we all have certain things in common and I overlook foolish belief when it’s benign but it’s those who aren’t benign that you have to worry about.

    So while the first thing I think on meeting someone is not are you a believer or not, if I meet them and they’re frothing at the mouth about their god, alarm bells freaking go off. It’s displaying an obsession and a dangerous one at that. One that would deny rights to gays, women and all too often is even racist. I can’t bridge gaps like that. I can get alone fine with the theist that is willing to live and let live but not the theist who wants to inflict their god’s laws on me or other innocent bystanders (such as denying gays the right to marry or a woman who needs an abortion the right to obtain one).

    So, yeah, depends on the theist but there are all too many that have burned that bridge instead of realizing that only those who believe in their god are obligated to keep his laws.

  • I was raised Catholic. If there is a God, I much prefer one whose ultimate plan is to save everyone, not one who has some kind of ‘acceptable losses’ program.

    Heck, even the Catholics haven’t gone all universalist on us yet. Granted, many Catholics ignore what the Vatican has to say, and I know plenty who don’t agree with official doctrine. However, while the church has decided to make its doctrine more inclusive in recent years, it’s not universalist and the official party line is that hell does exist and that if you knowingly reject their deity, you’re going there:

    “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 16).

    Everyone, therefore, ought to become converted to Christ, who is known through the preaching of the Church, and they ought, by baptism, to become incorporated into Him, and into the Church which is His body. Christ Himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16.16, John 3.5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church, which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence, those cannot be saved, who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded through Jesus Christ, by God, as something necessary, still refuse to enter it, or to remain in it. So, although in ways known only to Himself, God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11.6)

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/rcc_salv.htm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extra_Ecclesiam_nulla_salus

  • JD

    The 2D view really doesn’t represent things the way they are in relation between different people. There is a gulf, void, or a brick wall between believers and atheists on the point of the supernatural realm, but not necessarily on other topics. If you can draw a 3D view, I would suggest you’d see connected “land” because they probably see they have other things in common. The only difference is that the belief in a supernatural often informs a lot of other things, particularly in politics. But they might both like sports, the same team, hold similar jobs, both have families they love dearly or both have family/job difficulties.

  • I’ve set up a blog, solely to give my comments on religion, but with out pissing off my religious friends. They know I’m an atheist, but I’ll not be 100% open, as I don’t want to fall out over what I see as a silly superstition. for example, I have never called their religions sill superstitions to their face. It feels good.

  • Foobar Quxquux

    i don’t like the image. it suggests that atheists are equivalent in stature to the religiously inclined, and also that some mushy middle is a superior way to go. first of all, i think that the false equivalence is absurd: atheists are far more thoughtful and convicted than the religious zealots and hypocrites. second of all, i think the comparison is absurd: make up your mind, you silly agnostics. to what do you falsely cling?

  • We all have our faults. I would say that I have religious friends who have equal, if not better, stature than some of my atheist friends. We’ve all got our faults, and it can be very hard to shake a delusion that’s been drilled into you at birth.

    I don’t think you can say “atheists are far more thoughtful and convicted than the religious zealots and hypocrites”, it’s too sweeping a generalisation, and not true, in my experience.

    I think it is important to remember what people have in common, and this is for everything in life.