March 28, 2008

Catching Flies: Both Honey and Vinegar Needed

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Are we freethinkers (i.e., atheists, humanists, agnostics) likely to be more influential by promoting reason and secular morality rather than railing against superstition? Should we not be expending more energy toward serving as examples of how to live without religious delusion and less on mockery and criticism of religion? Maybe it is more complex than this simple dichotomy would suggest.

Let me get one bit of self-disclosure out of the way first. I've been going through a vinegar-filled phase lately. If you look over my post for the last couple weeks, you'll see it as clearly as I feel it. My tone has been angrier, and I've been doing way more bitching about religion than promoting reason or other healthy solutions. I'm out of balance, and I feel it acutely. I'm confident that I will find my center again soon, but I haven't done so just yet.

It seems that balance represents a worthy goal as we reflect on the honey and vinegar metaphor. However, there is a world of difference between balance at the individual level and balance at the level of the entire reality-based community.

Some individuals, and I am one, need to maintain some reasonable balance between promoting atheism, humanism, and the like vs. criticizing religious belief. I do not do well when I remain unbalanced for too long, and I readily acknowledge this as a personal flaw. Others have no such need and are content to gravitate toward one or another pole and remain there. They may even become more effective in such a position than I could ever be, and they experience no adverse effects.

It is the community as a whole that needs some degree of balance, and I think the honey and vinegar metaphor contains at least a kernel of truth. Attacks on religious belief are needed. For far too long, our fear has kept us silent and has allowed the religious to be exempt from criticism of their beliefs. This is starting to change, and I applaud all who have contributed to this important prong of the contemporary freethought movement.

Still, such attacks cannot be all we have to offer. This is where they honey is needed. We cannot neglect the promotion of reason, science, secular education, humanism, critical thought, community, and the like. It is not just about public perception; it is also about us and the sort of lives we want to create for ourselves. Bitch sessions can relieve stress, but more is likely to be needed over time. We need to stand for - and not just against - something. We benefit from a shared sense of community, and future generations benefit from our example.

I'll find my personal balance eventually, and I am optimistic that the broad freethought movement will maintain a balance as well. Those who focus on criticizing religious belief are a critical part of this balance, as are those who prefer to devote their time toward promoting the many positives of a reality-based worldview. We need to celebrate both the honey and the vinegar.

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