I am a child of the internet, I grew up with the information super high way and was perhaps one of the first generations to do so.
Debates, flame wars, and irrational arguments are part of my heritage.
The thing about a discussion is that you present your views and your arguments and you understand that lies and aggression dont resolve disputes... ever. When people get nasty the debate becomes a war and people will fight it not because they feel they are right but because they think the other side does not deserve to win.
The other day I made a comment on an article on a pro-life website. It was a small comment but it triggered some interesting responses. Specifically the person was of the opinion that "To discuss a moral issue without [the christian] god was [insane]" effectively throwing out any non-theistic argument.
I dont claim this person is representative of the people who read and comment on this type of article... In fact I think the vast majority are much more moderate in their views and would never say that a person who did not believe in Jesus should be banned form a moral debate.
But where were these people?
I comment on blogs often (faith based, secular, and atheistic) and I never see the moderates telling off the radicals on faith based forums. In the secular and atheists forums/comment threads it's different I have seen people pulled up for saying "I hope the burglar gets caught and that he is punished" simply because the person writing it used the masculine pronoun assuming the thief in question was male.
Outside of faith-based discussions people have far less problems calling out someone on their side for making a non-factual or fallacious argument.
I made a comment myself about what should and should not be allowed to be taught to kids in an atheist forum and was pulled up on it by another member, he was right and I changed my stand accordingly.
But on faith discussions I see far less willingness to do so...
Recently in one article on a pro-life website I have seen people in the comments claim that sex outside natural marriage was rape, and that using a condom was murder.
Why is it that the moderates of faith let those statements slide?
I know people who have been raped, for whom the experience was so terrible it still effects them years later. To liken all consensual sex, all love making outside of a christian marriage to that experience is insulting enough to me but those people who have experienced rape, it is a dismissal of all their pain with a single semantic swipe.
In other articles I have seen people claim that no woman ever dies from not receiving an abortion, this discussion just days before a woman in ireland died because they would not performa life saving procedure while there was a foetal heart beat, nor would they abort the foetus even though the child could not be saved. Savita Halappanavar was the victim of a faith based policy that says when the mothers life can only be saved by terminating the child it is better to let them both die.
Again, why is it that the only people calling these people out, the only ones willing to stand up and point out the absurdity of the claim that abortions are never needed to save a mothers life were people who were pro-choice. Did nobody on the pro life side realise that the facts had been distorted to support the claim?
As far as I can see it is because people of faith hold that others are entitled to their beliefs even if it is radicalised and would cost lives, even if it is bigoted, and even if it is manifestly wrong.
Unless of course... those beliefs contradicts the laws of god.
Then it is not a belief to be tolerated, it is immorality, it is evil, or it is "insanity".
It has been said by many people better than me that moderate religious positions create safe harbours for dangerous radicals most of who are fundamentalists or literalists.
I think this is only true because moderates too often fail in their duty to fight the extreme views they do not share. They allow tolerance of different peoples of faith to prevent them from chastising and openly disagreeing with statements and practices that go against their own morals.
They do this simply because they have been raised to think "faith" is a virtue.
It takes a major event like a woman dying after days of agony or a you girl being shot in the face to stimulate people of faith to protect against their bedfellows.
But by then it is too late and the damage has been done.
It is important for anyone engaged in a debate to remain intellectually honest, this means not trading in your ethics and not throwing away your principles in favor of flawed or untruthful arguments. It also means not silently accenting to arguments that you fundamentally disagree with just because it suits your current position.
I dont claim that only people of faith are subject to this particular weakness, it seduces anyone who feels passionate about their position but the when you consider faith a virtue you have a blind spot to the motivations of others who share that faith.