Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Skeptic's Dilemma

I am both an atheist and a skeptic.  I make this distinction because not every atheist is a skeptic. An atheist is simply someone who "denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings".  That's all that term means.  It doesn't address how or why a person came to that understanding nor their general philosophy or anything else, really.

Many atheists are also skeptics.  In my case, the fact that I am a skeptic caused me to eventually become an atheist.  If you turn your skeptic eye on religion, it may not pass muster.  That is what happened with me.

I belong to a small local group of nonbelievers. I use that term, nonbelievers, because that is how the group describes its members.  Some people in the group identify as atheists.  Some people prefer to call themselves an agnostic.  (Note: agnosticism addresses knowledge - as in whether we can know something - while atheism addresses belief.  One can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic believer or, perhaps, someone in between who hasn't reached a conclusion. Most of the time a person who identifies his or herself simply as an agnostic is a nonbeliever.)  Some people prefer the term freethinker or nonbeliever. Not everyone in the group is a skeptic.

This last part is causing some problems. Our local group has a core group of six of us who almost always show up for the monthly meeting with several others who attend when their busy schedules permit. Out of that core group of six, one of them is actually a practitioner of alternative medicine and one of them is a conspiracy theorist.  One of the members who is not able to attend regularly is also a practitioner of a different alternative medicine.

You've no idea how much tongue biting I've been going through over this.

Our group is very informal.  There are hardly ever any speakers or scheduled discussions.  We simply meet once a month and discuss topics pertaining to our beliefs - or lack of, really.  It's really more of a group therapy sort of thing. When you are a member of a minority group like we are, it is good just to get together and talk with like-minded individuals sometimes.

I try changing the subject when the topic turns to conspiracy theories or alternative medicine in our meetings but this doesn't always work. Sometimes I wonder if I should just tell them I don't agree with them but I'm not sure I want to get into an argument about these things.  If it were a one-on-one discussion, I would have no problem telling a person I didn't share their beliefs but in a group I feel it is more appropriate to remain quiet.  I wrestle with this decision sometimes because remaining quiet can make it appear that I agree with them and I don't want that to be presumed. I do suspect that another member - who is an actual scientist - is also a skeptic, as well, so I don't think I'm alone.

I do have a difficult time understanding, however, how reasonably intelligent and educated individuals can really believe that something I would classify as "woo" is a reality.  It boggles the mind...

So, dear reader, I am asking for your opinion.  What do you do when you are in a situation like this? Is it best to keep the peace or should I speak up?  Keep in mind that these topics have absolutely nothing to do with why we are meeting in the first place and that I generally like these people even if we don't agree on everything.  What would you do?

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