There’s a recent Jesus and Mo cartoon (you can see it here) that I disagree with. In the first frame Moses (or is it Muhammad?) is sitting at a bar with Jesus, and Mo says this to the barmaid:
If you want to create alliances with moderate religionists you are going to have to find a new mode of discourse.
The barmaid then asks how this is done, to which Jesus replies:
You need to be more accommodating. Less irascible.
The barmaid, still perplexed, wants to know, specifically, what to do, to which Mo replies:
Basically, don’t mention the E-word.
The E-word, as it turns out, is epistemology.
But my retort is this: if you abandon dialogue because of the epistemological chasms between people, what happens to the L-word (love)?
When people stop talking it seems to be a characteristic of human psychology that they start hating and demonizing one another. Maybe we should keep talking to one another, not because we can agree on epistemology, but because we can agree that peaceful and nonparanoid communities are maintained by people who can still talk to one another with some degree of civility, vulnerability, and kindness. It also reminds us, in talking, that individual human beings, in actual interaction with one another, have more in common than different, and we can be friendly with one another.
For those of us who are secular, it’s not just the Enlightenment’s epistemic and empirical premises that we ought to share, but its assumptions about dialogue and human friendliness as well.
By the way, Caspar Melville, an atheist editor for the New Humanist, writes in the Guardian that he has grown tired of the new atheism, and its often obnoxious rhetorical orientation. As a result, he’s been taking serious heat from some of his fellow atheists for wanting to change the discourse. He wrote recently that he seeks:
. . . to be less strident so as to create alliances with moderate religionists on specific topics – faith schools, fundamentalism, terrorism – of concern to all.
He also confesses this about his orientation to the new atheism:
I’m bored, and I fear my readers are becoming so too.
And so he wants to know “if we can find a mode of inquiry into religion, faith, belief and non-belief, more consistent with William than with Jesse James.” Caspar Melville’s comments appear to be the source for the Jesus and Mo parody.