Critical thinking about personal beliefs

Critical thinking about personal beliefs

Critical thinking about personal beliefs

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 28 2008 10:38 AM

Critical thinking about personal beliefs

I try to think carefully about my own feelings, my own "beliefs" if you will. I hesitate to call them that, because I associate belief with faith, with thinking something is true without evidence. But it also commonly means just things you think are true, no matter why you do.

Anyway, its important to sit back sometimes and look at something you think to be true, and examine it. Why do you think it? What's the evidence? Have things changed since you first adopted that position?

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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With the election coming up, I find myself doing this more often. And then Rebecca Watson at Skepchick sent me a note about the issue of gay marriage. Proposition 8 in California goes up for vote on the 4th, and if passed will basically outlaw gay marriage in that state. Rebecca helped make a very interesting video about it, comparing gay marriage to interracial marriage. Watch the video, then read on below.


Done? OK, good. Now first, my own thoughts are that being gay is not a choice, it's just something you are, just like being heterosexual. You don't choose that either! So to discriminate based on orientation is silly. If you have a distaste for gay people, well, that's your own feeling. I don't necessarily condemn it, as long as people understand that it's a subjective, personal thing. I loathe cucumbers, but I don't want to amend the state Constitution to forbid others from even putting it in their salads.

The video is interesting; my first reaction to it, honestly, was the thought that bigotry against gays is different than against race. Then I thought about it some more, and I had a hard time coming up with evidence for that conjecture. How are they different? Being gay is no more a choice than being white, or Asian, or black. Many religious texts have bad things to say about gays, but then many have bad things to say about blacks (like the Book of Mormon, and the Bible see the note at the bottom of this entry). Yet our country has striven to ensure blacks have the same rights as whites -- somewhat imperfectly, certainly, but we're trying. So how is being gay different?

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Even if someone were to come up with some difference -- and I'm willing to listen -- then the video still has impact. I would think that most people have little or no issues with interracial couples, and ones who do are an endangered species (I hope). So by changing the wording of the video a little bit, it contrasts feelings about homosexuality with feelings about race. It forces you to examine your thoughts on both. We already have far better feelings about race as a country than we did a few decades ago. Yes, a lot of ugliness in the populace is surfacing about Obama, but I still think that kind of person is in the minority. That contrasts pretty strongly with feelings about sexual orientation.

So my first reaction to the video was, I think, way off. I think now I was wrong because gayness and race aren't that dissimilar, and even if they are, that's not the point of the video. It's to reveal bigotry in any of its guises, and for that it does a pretty good job.

The video itself may actually have some impact on Prop 8. Hard to say. But it's had an impact on me, and in an interesting way. I hope that people will watch videos like that, and examine their own "beliefs". Even though it's October, it's always a good time for a little mental spring cleaning.

Note added later: I originally said the Bible had bad things to say about blacks. After reading the comments, and looking into this deeper, I discovered that this is a relatively recent interpretation. The Bible essentially condones slavery, and that was used to support the idea of black slavery, and the "Curse of Ham" (what I was basing my statement on) was interpreted to mean blacks. So I was wrong about the Bible saying bad things about blacks in particular. I'll note, however, that the Old Testament, specifically Leviticus, is chock full of other horrors to our modern sense. The point is, looking to religious texts you will find plenty of examples of intolerance. The Sermon on the Mount -- the best speech in the Bible -- is cherry picked or ignored by people who use the Bible on which to base their own intolerance.