Attack My Belief: Attack Me

“Toward no crimes have people shown themselves so cold-bloodedly cruel
as in punishing differences in belief.”

-James Russell Lowell

Everyone has beliefs, whether you accept it or not. If you blindly follow others’ beliefs, while that is its own issue, those are still your beliefs. Whenever we accept a belief or a judgment, we take it in and make it a part of who we are. To a certain extent, man is compiled of belief systems and judgments about the world around him. Man’s identity is closely woven into and connected with those things/people to which he conforms himself: friends, family, beliefs, etc. Have you ever noticed how people will refer to themselves or others as ‘a Republican/Democrat,’ ‘a Christian/atheist/Jew,’ ‘Pro-Life/Pro-Choice,’ or many other things. They place those words as among the defining terms of one’s identity. Sometimes it’s harmful, sometimes it’s helpful, but it does make a difference in how we view ourselves or others.

Søren Kierkegaard is known for saying that ‘once you label me, you negate me.’ As we begin to throw labels and identifying terms on ourselves and others, we lose sight of ourselves/them as actually persons, and we just see them as a compilation of these beliefs/skills/etc. That makes it a lot easier for us to attack them. For example, anyone who drives would know that, whenever a car cuts us off or runs through a stop light or whatever, we look at them, instinctually, as a mere car; we neglect to look at the fact that there is a human person driving that car. That person has a life, a personal subjectivity about which we know nothing. When we look at them as merely a car, we can easily get mad at them, allowing the anger to fuel a sort of ‘road rage.’

When we label ourselves as, say, ‘Pro-Life’ and others as ‘Pro-Choice,’ we do a couple things. 1) We create an Us-versus-Them mentality, further distancing ourselves from each other. 2) We also limit the person to that specific idea/belief. So I am no longer speaking with a person about the abortion issue; I am now speaking with ‘Pro-Choice.’ That idea has no personal subjectivity and so possesses a certain finite dignity, as opposed to the infinite dignity possessed by a human person. That belief has less dignity than that of a person. That is just basic math – infinity > finitude. Therefore, we seek to attack that idea. We think that we are not harming anyone, because we are seeking to dismantle the idea/belief. However, in reality, because that person has become so interlinked with this idea/belief, we are actually attacking them and their personhood. This idea of ‘respect’ seems to only last as long as the speaker wants it to last. Once it’s there turn to respond to an argument, they can proceed to dismantle the idea, the person, and their dignity. And that is just not right.

Why should we have discussions with people about their beliefs? We should be seeking to understand why they believe what they believe, while seeking to show them why we believe what we believe. If we are seeking to change their minds, we should stop. If we are seeking to shut them down as persons, we should stop. As we attack people’s beliefs, we are attacking something bound to their identity. We take things in and make them a part of who we are. An attack on that belief would mean an attack on our personhood. There is not one person who does not deserve love and respect. If you disagree with someone, we should not be seeking to attack them and their beliefs. That gets no one anywhere. All that we are doing is making ourselves more likely to continue on with each of our beliefs. But if we seek to come to understand one another, without attacking each other’s beliefs, then we can show them the love and respect they deserve, while coming to a greater understanding of them and their beliefs.

So if I write or post about something that you disagree with, if one of your friends expresses a belief different than that of your own, there is absolutely no need to attack them or their belief. That gets no one anywhere except for further apart. We should seek greater understanding. Otherwise, we are allowing beliefs (of ideas and of other people) to persist out of ignorance of the truth, which most people agree to be bad – when we neglect the truth.

“I speak to everyone in the same way,
whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

-Albert Einstein

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Duc In Altum

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