Sunday Philosophical Tea Party


You know those Inquisitions Old Skepchick hosts every afternoon where they ask a question and have you answer? This is kind of like that except it’s a Philosophical Tea Party and it is held on Sundays. Depending on how this goes it will either stay only on Sundays, or we might do it more often… or maybe more spontaneously. But that’s for the future.

For now all you need to know is there will be philosophy, and tea, and partying, and it will be at a location of the author’s choice whether it be a pirate ship, a castle, or in a redwood tree.

Today I’ve chosen to have it take place in a backyard garden in Norway probably in the springtime with flowers blossoming and squirrels with pancakes on their heads running about madly trying to avoid being speared by invisible dinosaurs (the locations won’t always be that elaborate).

Since today is the first Philosophical Tea Party I’m not the only one asking questions. I’ve consulted with my fellow Teen Skepchicks and gotten two others to contribute questions so here they are. Sit back, have a cup of tea, and start thinking.

From Jackie:

I have a question which comes from personal experience.  I was raised Catholic and went to CCD all throughout grammar and middle school.  In eighth grade, we were informed that we were going to start confirmation classes.  I told my mom that I didn’t want to make my confirmation because I didn’t really believe in Catholicism (at this time I wasn’t yet an atheist, but I knew I wasn’t Catholic).  She said that she still wanted me to take the confirmation classes, and then decide after I finished.  I had no problem with this, so I went to the classes, and after finishing I still did not want to be confirmed.  I could tell my mom didn’t have a big problem with this herself, but I think she was worried about how my grandmother would feel.  I wasn’t really concerned with what my grandmother thought about it at the time, but looking back on it I’m wondering if I should have been.  So my question is, if a family member believes very strongly in the importance of a given religious tradition, and would be very upset if you didn’t participate in it, should you just go along with it even if you don’t believe?

From Vy:

There are two traditional categories for separating students: the science and math kids, and the humanities (English, history) kids. I do not feel like I fall into either of these categories because both interest me for different reasons. I am pretty good at calculus and writing essays. Do you feel like you fall into one category or the other? Why? Is this a false dichotomy?

And Elles (me):

I often find myself slightly irked by the shallowness of many of my fellow students. It’s not that I never participate in shallow, meaningless discussions that have no intellectual foundation whatsoever (there’s nothing wrong with delving into shallowness every so often), but I can’t go very long without trying to get into a philosophical discussion. It could be my bias, but it seems like those around me rarely think a thought more profound than the varnish on a globe. They think I’m weird when I get excited by science, and I think they’re weird for hating learning of any kind that doesn’t involve finding out which celebrity is going out with which other celebrity. I sort of worry if this is problematic because they are missing so much beauty in the universe that comes from intellectual thought, and also because they seem unwilling to think when called upon as citizens to make decisions about important stuff. Should I encourage teenagers to think intellectually more often or should I leave them to their interests, however shallow I may find them?

Have fun, and have at it.

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  1. vreify
    November 23, 2008 at 6:04 pm —

    So many questions, Elles!

    To Jackie’s question:
    It’s a delicate situation. I think it depends on how much you value your family member and how much you value your own beliefs.

    Say that the religious tradition is mostly harmless. If you love your family member a great deal, you could probably suffer the pain of keeping your mouth shut and pretending to believe the same things they do. This is also true of arguments with loved ones: eventually, someone has to concede. Unfortunately it is often the non-religious who have to hide their beliefs the most often.

    I try to get away with being as non-religious as I can, until I am forced to participate in something that my parents think is really important.

    If the belief is not so harmless, it’s important to speak up. Rupturing family relations is not as horrible as putting someone’s life in danger, or denying others basic human rights. Say they want you to participate in an exorcism (I’ve known some Pentecostals) or convince your gay friend that her sexual orientation is a heretical mistake. Then I think it’s okay to slap your family member in the face with your vehement non-belief and disagreement.

    Especially if you don’t particularly value this family member. No use in agreeing with abusive uncles and drug-addicted sisters.

  2. FFFearlesss
    November 24, 2008 at 12:06 pm —

    JACKIE’S QUESTION: That’s a question I’m asking myself a lot lately as I feel I am in the final throes of my de-conversion process. The problem is my wife is still very much “in the faith” and I wonder what it will be like when it comes to talking to the kids. Do I want to have the conversation between my wife and four-year-old over whether or not Daddy is going to hell? Probably not. So until further notice, I”m sure I’ll continue going to church (it’s only an hour or so a week) and participating in grace before meals until the point where I feel the kids are old enough to weigh for themselves what they think is the truth.

    VY’S QUESTION: Makes you wonder if certain brains are wired certain ways to be able to comprehend certain subjects better. I consider myself more the English lit type in that I prize story above everything. I enjoy reading people like Dawkins and Pinker because they write well. But I’ve realized I would make a pretty crappy scientist because I couldn’t deal with all the actual math and painstaking experiments. I’ll let the real scientists do that and wow me with their stories when they’re done.

    ELLE’S QUESTION: You can’t save people from themselves. And unfortunately it doesn’t get better. It’s funny because just yesterday my sister in law made a point of telling me how boring the science articles that I’ve been posting to Facebook have been. Boring? We’re talking galaxies colliding, sweeping pictures of Antarctica, Brian Greene articles on the LHC and string theory, fascinating stuff. She thinks it’s boring. Yet she has no problem going on and on… and ON AND ON AND ON about scrapbooking and how she’s going to renovate her basement. Because, ya know, THAT never gets old. All I can say is thank god for the internet so I can find other people who actually get off on this stuff.

  3. Jenny
    November 24, 2008 at 5:10 pm —

    Jackie: That’s a hard one… Luckily I haven’t been in the position of seriously upsetting anyone (most of my family is non- or mildly religious). All I can think is that it probably depends on the tradition (getting confirmed vs. attending a church service, for instance) and on the relative. My grandmother is probably never going to change her beliefs and what she believes doesn’t do any harm, so I don’t feel too bad doing a ‘smile and nod’ every now and then.

    Vy: I fit into both at school, as did most of my classmates. But then there were some people who were way better at one than the other. I think it’s a false dichotomy in that people can be good (or bad) at both, and that not all humanities and sciences need completely different ways of thinking. Chemistry and history both required a lot of memorising stuff, as I remember.

    Even though I could’ve gone either way when I finished school (I think my school yearbook says I was planning to study astronomy), after 3 years of taking humanities at uni I think of myself as a humanities person. I did a bit of reading about ‘literary Darwinism’ recently though – I really like the idea of a more scientific (and skeptical!) approach to the arts.

    Elles: You could try relating the two – I bet there’s a lot you could say about sexual selection and celebrity relationships, or pop songs. 🙂

    *gawks at the squirrels*

  4. kayla_unkempt
    November 24, 2008 at 5:16 pm —

    To Jackie’s question: I sit through baptisms – IN SPANISH (a second language in which I cannot understand the religious lingo) – and such for my family. I sit still and quietly and don’t text message and behave myself like a good girl. The whole while I sit and stare at stained glass windows while my butt *woops! I mean sitting muscle, of course* falls asleep. My mother endures it too (she’s non-religious and probably speaks less spanish than I do – though she would NEVER admit it). But still, we sit there and smile and pretend to be happy for the crying baby that gets water splashed on its head, and why? CUZ WE LOVE THE HECK OUT OF THOSE PEOPLE. I know it sounds crazy in these modern times, but yes, in my family we actually love each other!! And my religious grandmother reads my blogs…and she’s supportive. I think that’s just about the coolest thing anyone could ever do – set aside whatever they believe for family (or even friends – Bat Mitzvahs are actually really fun!!!!)

    Vy’s question: I love science AND reading…does that mean there’s something wrong with me?? Does it mean I’m *gasp* UNTRADITIONAL?!?!

    Elle’s question: Maybe, if we just talked like it was gossip, they’d get science: “OHMIGOSH!! Did you hear about that planet they just found? It’s totally like 3 gazillion miles away! We should like, throw a party, riiiite???” Or, if you think they can’t understand the wonderfulness of science because of a language difference, try chatspeakenese… “OMG so lyk i wuz reedin dis book nd lyk i aktully lernd stuff! Woo hoo!!” brb and lol and all that.

    On a serious note: Try incorporating science into gossip. Maybe teachers should do this. Like if you were learning about the structure of hair – which celebrity has the best hair?? BAM! Instant fun learning. (Yeah, I know hair is the most random example in the world…it’t the first thing that came to mind.)

  5. November 25, 2008 at 12:11 pm —

    Jackie’s: That is a tough question… The worst part is that religious traditions are extremely boring. Well, I would say it kind of depends how distressed the family member would be. Or maybe it could change if you just tell the family you don’t believe in it. AARRGH…, I don’t know .*sigh*

    Vy’s: I am primarily a science and math person. I like them the most, and I do them the best. So, if you are talking about primary skills and aptitude, that is it. But my overall interests are rreeaalllyyy broad, and almost every single subject gets me excited. In fact, I have mostly humanities class in my high school because they are very interesting, and the social studies programs are excellent, and the science department sucks. I would say it is a false dichotomy because I say everyone has a mixture of both. In my case, though, the interests are more diverse than probably most people.

    Elles’: I think you should do both. As Ecclesiastes says, there are time for shallowness, there are times for philosophical musings. (What? You telling me I made that up! *in denial*) Usually, people do more of the shallow side, so you should balance it with thoughtful questions. In my mind, people are not thinking deeply enough. They should be more… elititst. ^_^ This way, we take over people’s mind, so that instead of accusing politicians for being elitist… Ok, I am going too far.

  6. November 25, 2008 at 12:28 pm —

    I know how it feels like to be in church having the gluteus maxima go to sleep, not being able to understand the preacher at all (mine speaks Korean, though it wouldn’t have made a difference because back in Venezuela at church, I could understand Spanish, but the sound never registered) and feeling sleepy through the whole service. The only difference is that I can’t seem to put a smile on my face, I am constantly in a bad mood, and terrible thoughts come through my head.

  7. Dread Polack
    December 3, 2008 at 3:29 pm —

    Jackie’s question:

    I’d say no, for the most part. I think honesty is the best policy, and unless it would hurt someone in a significant way, you shouldn’t pretend to believe. I think that if it seems like it would really hurt the person in question, and there’s no harm in deceiving them, it might be acceptable. Your own situation is more important, however, and make sure you’re not getting yourself into a bigger mess than you wanted to avoid in the first place.

    Vy’s Question:

    I fell into neither category, really, since I hated school pretty much across the board. 🙂 I was good at math and science, but I also liked writing (just not anything they wanted me to write).

    Most dichotomies are false, in a sense. It’s all contextual. I think some people fit pretty solidly into one category, sometimes more than one, sometimes none. Even as an angsty teen who didn’t want to be “labeled,” I have to admit I fit some stereotypes.

    Elles’ Question:

    I say give it a solid shot. Once. After that, don’t bother, or else you’ll start to annoy people. If they want to get into a serious discussion, they’ll remember you.

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