Anytime a community is established, it must be established around a set of common ideals, as well as a set of rules to help everyone in the community behave in such a way that upholds those ideals and cultivates the desired atmosphere of the community. So, let’s set some ground rules!
But here’s the thing: I don’t like being a rules-Nazi. If this is going to be a vibrant community where people can be free to discuss ideas and learn from others, then overzealous rules-enforcement can be more of a detriment than a boon. I would much prefer a “moderator-less” atmosphere, where each individual can take ownership of the ideals of this community — thus, we could become a self-moderating body, where newcomers and those not quite accustomed to our somewhat radical approach to religious discussion can be gently guided by the entire community, rather than becoming the target of top-down rebuke and retribution.
In the spirit of this, I would like our ground rules to be arrived at democratically; if everyone is expected to get behind these rules, then it makes sense that everyone would have a hand in creating them. I see the rules themselves being somewhat fluid and malleable, able to adapt as the atmosphere and nature of the group changes. I’ll continue to update this post as readers continue to send their feedback.
The way I envision it, the rules should be simple, and should each uphold one of the following ideals (or others, as may be suggested in the future):
The Ideals of the Recovering Intellectual:
- Discussion is more important than domination. If this were a debate, the goal would be simple: to win by outmaneuvering your opponent in argumentation. However, this is not a debate, it is a discussion — thus, we have to redefine what a “win” looks like in our community: I call it a “win” when all parties of the discussion feel they’ve been adequately heard and understood, and have been given a forum where they may share their viewpoints without fear of prejudice or hate.
- People are more important than ideas. This is where we intellectuals often tend to get it wrong: People are of the utmost importance, and are each possessors of intrinsic worth. Thus, each individual is worthy of respect, even if you happen not to have any respect for their ideas. When you disagree respectfully, you are saying, “I believe your ideas are wrong” — and that’s okay. However, if you resort to name-calling and brow-beating, you are saying, “I believe you are wrong,” or “I believe there is something wrong with you” — and that’s not okay.
- Everyone here has something they can learn from the others. Everyone is of course free to share their mind, but it becomes apparent quickly when someone is more interested in propagating their ideas than they are in discussing with others. If you feel like you have all the answers already, and that it is your mission in life to school everyone else in your point of view, then perhaps this is not the group for you.
- No one has all the answers. The only way a community like this can function is if it is characterized by humility. If the answer to the God-question were really so cut-and-dry, there would be no need for debate. I think we can all agree that, for the greater human population, the matter is far from being settled; just because you are thoroughly convinced of your viewpoint, it does not follow that your viewpoint is absolutely correct. Which leads to the following:
- It takes faith to believe in anything — even atheism. This one tends to be a bit controversial, but I think it’s because there’s a widespread misunderstanding of what “faith” is. When some people think of “faith,” they think of what I would call “blind faith” — that is, believing in something contrary to evidence. However, I believe that faith (or, at least, “reasonable faith”) should be defined in terms of a belief that is built upon evidence — in a phrase, “I believe thus-and-so (which cannot be definitively proven) because of thus-and-so (which can be proven).” The reasonable theist and the reasonable atheist have both gotten to where they are by the same road: the road of induction. Inductive reasoning is built upon evidence — but inherent within the inductive method is always, always a degree of uncertainty. Induction, even at its best, always requires some sort of “leap of faith” — if it didn’t it would be called “deduction,” and no amount of deduction can tell you whether or not God exists.
So, I believe the following rules serve as a good starting-point to a practical embodiment of these ideals. Everyone’s feedback and suggestions are, of course, most welcome:
The Rules of the “Weighing the Evidence” Community:
- No personal attacks or threats. You can say that you believe what someone has said is wrong — but you cannot make a statement that implies that there is something inherently wrong with that person. Threats of harm or harassment (sexual or otherwise) will not be tolerated.
- No hate-speech or trolling. Statements that are intended to provoke a negative response or inflame others’ emotions are not allowed.
- No self-promotion or spamming. We are here to discuss, not to hear about your latest project.
Perhaps there should also be a set of guidelines that are not as authoritative as rules, but could still help newcomers assimilate into our method of discussion:
- If you make a statement of fact that is not self-evident, it is reasonable for the community to expect you to be able to back up that statement with evidence.
- Speak courteously. Personal frustration is no excuse for rudeness. If you cannot continue a dialogue without being rude, there is no shame in simply walking away. On the flip side:
- Keep in mind the limitations of the written medium. It’s easy to “read too much into” something that someone has written, and we can tend to impose snarkiness or hostility where none was intended. When you can, give others the benefit of the doubt with regards to the tone of their comments.
- Be as brief as possible. People’s time is valuable, and needlessly long-winded comments tend to kill good discussion. Brevity, after all, is the soul of wit.
- Don’t pile-on. If someone makes a comment that is relatively close to what you would say, consider holding back until more people weigh in. Or, perhaps, post a short statement of agreement or clarification.
I am looking forward to hearing everyone’s feedback with regard to these ideals, rules and guidelines. Thank you all for your input — in doing so, you are making this community a better place!