A Fils for Your Thoughts

August 31, 2008

Frames of Reference

Filed under: Dialogue,Philosophy — Haider @ 7:51 am

Discussions often operate on the level of arguments, or statements. One party makes an assertion, and the other party dismisses it as “not making sense,” “being flawed,” or a number of other reasons for not accepting the assertion. What is often overlooked is the frame of reference used to justify that assertion.

In other words, the assertion makes sense, based on the assumptions of the speaker. It is part of a whole. In order to understand the part, we must see where it fits into the whole, determine where the fault lies in the entire outlook of the speaker (if one is to be found) and judge the part accordingly.

For example, suppose someone tells you he believes religion should bring happiness. For a religious person with a different understanding of religion, this idea might not make sense, because he thinks religion is about obedience to God, and doing the right thing. “Happiness” doesn’t have a place in religion (at least not in this life time). To resolve the misunderstanding, you wouldn’t go anywhere by repeating the same statement. The two have different frames of reference. The statement doesn’t make sense to the listener, because it doesn’t have a place in his frame. It’s not part of his “big picture.” He would have understood what is being meant by the statement, but doesn’t think it is a correct assertion.

Now, if the speaker moves up one level, and presents his frame of reference, or a part of it that places the statement in a more meaningful context, then the discussion can move forward:

“Religion doesn’t bring God any benefit, but is for the benefit of mankind.”

“God created human nature, and His religion is compatible with their nature.”

These statements, while not necessarily sufficient to convince someone that the initial statement is true, offer a wider scope – and reveal a greater part of the picture – to understand what the speaker’s opinion is based on.

There are two things that need to be done in order to have fruitful discussions:

1-Reveal the frame of reference to the point of commonality: Most beliefs share a common overall frame, then branch off when dealing with more specific issues. In order to resolve misunderstandings, and to have a discussion on the level that matters, you need to begin with the belief you have in common. This defines a common frame of reference for both parties to use.

2- Question the validity of your own frame of reference: Your personal frame of reference might not be a valid one. Assess whether the other party’s frame of reference is more realistic than your own. This presents the problem of judging your frame of reference by the standard of your own frame of reference (which is why all religions are correct according to their followers)! What is important here is the willingness to accept that your frame of reference can be wrong and should be questioned.

July 24, 2008

Intolerance Towards Tolerance

Filed under: Dialogue — Haider @ 5:28 pm

There are many religious individuals, or even scholars, who condemn religious tolerance – i.e. the acceptance of other religions and cooperation with their adherents – because it is considered to be the acceptance of falsehoods, and those who are propagating false beliefs.

This is especially critical when the beliefs promoted by other religions conflict with one’s own beliefs. That is, how can one assert the belief in a single deity, yet accept to interact with those who believe in multiple deities? How can one build ties with those who deny the prophethood of the one whose religion they follow?

Some of the points to note about religious tolerance are:

  • To accept the existence of other religions does not mean that you accept their beliefs to be true, or equally valid to yours
  • To interact with others from different faiths does not mean that you approve of all their actions
  • Religious tolerance is to respect people’s freedom to think for themselves and choose their beliefs as they see fit, without the use of intimidation or compulsion
  • Where people have disagreements about their beliefs or their customs or moral codes, they should be willing to discuss these matters, and to exchange their opinions
  • To refuse to interact with others does not help you promote your religion. It is only through dialogue that people can form a better understanding of one another
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