Looking back through past correspondence with friends and detractors, I find many reasons some people see me as the Devil. This letter about the right to question beliefs and opinions had me cast out of a group of friends. It came in reply to a former associate’s questions. I have edited it to omit personal details. This letter is a testament to my enduring defence of the need for critical thinking.
November 4th, 2015
I often enjoy answering challenging questions about my worldview. I relish the opportunity for complex dialogue such inquiries present; especially, when the person asking wants an answer and looks for a similar opportunity to engage in intelligent discourse. These discussions usually lead to my interlocutor and I seeing each other in a better light (so to speak; forgive the cliché, it goes well with the meta-content of the idea).
I find that those who desire honest conversation are regularly reflective in the way they listen and do their best to demonstrate how much of what I put into words they understand by returning reworked versions of what I have said, and at times in the form of questions. This method is how all conversations should go. We listen to what others contribute, process the information, and let the other party know that we have done so by providing a statement of acknowledgement.
However, there are times when the individual questioning my perspectives does not hope for an answer but is simply looking to rebuke my thinking.
These questions come in many forms, yet I have come to expect them in the form of “what gives me the right to question other people’s beliefs?” They also ask me “who I think I am to do so” more directly. These types of questions permeate our political, educational, and social circles; they seem to have become ubiquitous in our speech about higher learning and political correctness as if these two were somehow dependent on each other. They are not.
Now, these questions are in and of themselves valid because if I claim the right to criticise the dogmas of a given doctrine, I must be able to provide reasonable evidence and argument for my assertions. At the very least, I should offer a fair opinion, and failure to do so would have me forfeiting this right.
The Right to Question Beliefs and Opinions
Then, the issue isn’t the questions but the implications underlying them (or the intention of the questions as rhetorical devices). If by asking me why I challenge specific ideas, you are attempting to tell me that I am not to do so, you are simply wrong. Holding any concept or belief exempt from criticism isn’t only illogical; it is overtly unethical and thus potentially destructive.
I have written many pages about this, but better explanations will come in the future. For now, I provide a short answer to these questions to show respect for their validity.
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Aside from the immutable human rights of free speech and expression, I claim to be able to criticise ideas held by others because I allow those I have to be condemned, if necessary, by everyone.
I am open to debate and dialectic; anyone can scrutinise my beliefs harshly whenever possible. I also accept the possibility of being proven wrong by good evidence and sound argument.
Nothing in philosophy, science, or simple logic tells us that there are notions beyond reproach. NOTHING!
It is only when it comes to emotional sensibilities that people decide not to question the value of a conviction; this has always been the cause for unnecessary political conflict and disgraceful suffering, including loss of life.
This concern adds another reason for my right, and everyone else’s for that matter, to challenge ideas and beliefs, which is the destructive effects of unmitigated human emotion or human thinking when left unchecked.
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Thank you for reading.
— The Devil Unbound