Posted by: cLamb | April 14, 2009

Is it okay to impose belief? If so, which ones?

            I got into a conversation with a friend recently that raised some questions that I think are interesting to entertain and relevant to responses to the New Atheism. It stems from the idea of expressing and encouraging belief in non-believers. At the beginning of the semester, in reading Dawkins’ book there was a part of it, which I took issue with. It talked about how it is the responsibility of believers to provide evidence for their belief. In some ways I agree with this assertion, but I do not completely agree with its implications. I took this passage from Dawkins to mean that it is the duty of believers to provide evidence to support their own belief so that they can convince others as well. To Dawkins, if such evidence existed, he would be a believer. Especially when dealing with Christianity, it is a mission of believers to spread the word. Therefore we must have convincing “evidence” so as to appeal to the faithless. I do agree that our convictions must have a certain level of credence in order to convert others. On this level it is the duty of the believer to provide the necessary evidence. The reason I had a problem with this accusation was because I think Dawkins was trying to discredit any belief someone already had on the basis that they cannot substantiate such claims with hard evidence. If I can believe in something without concrete manifestations of such belief then why should I be required to provide someone who disagrees with my theology with evidence in order to defend personal belief? I do not feel that this is necessary. Jesus said, “because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) Therefore, as far as my personal theology is concerned I disagree that I am required to defend it with evidence. As far as evangelism is concerned, Dawkins is right, evidence is a necessary component to spread conviction.

            So how does this fit into my conversation? We were talking about the necessity of imposing belief on another when there are significant differences in belief; especially where morality is concerned. I personally try to keep an open mind and accept the difference in the beliefs that others hold. Just as I would not want someone to try and impose their opinion, in any matter, on me, I do not think I have the right to do so to others. But what about where morality is concerned? I think most people would agree that there exist objective moral truths that transcend religious affiliation, political party affiliation, nationalistic differences, gender differences, etc. But not all things that maybe should be objective moral truths are considered such, and people take every possible side. Our conversation particularly was concerned with medical ethics and the duty of a doctor, particularly a Christian doctor in their assertion of beliefs that may stem from religion. Should a doctor take advantage of their power position to spread their personal beliefs? What about to those who adamantly disagree? I think this argument is closely related to the issue of Dawkins assertion of providing evidence because of the personal nature of faith. I do not need physical evidence to believe in God, but Dawkins does. I respect that. Knowing that I know that convincing Dawkins of the validity of my beliefs is futile. He does not agree with me and he does not have to. I think this conclusion can be carried over to the conversation I had with my friend. In differences of moral issues that stem from religious beliefs, should I strongly assert my belief to those who disagree? My friend says yes, I originally said no. However, the more I think about it the more I am unsure about my response. Especially when dealing with the topic of morality, this is a very fuzzy area. Where do we draw the line? Jews consider pork as unclean and therefore it is wrong to eat it. I would not appreciate a Jewish friend trying to impose this practice on me because I do not believe it is wrong. This is a minor example but is there a point where a distinction is made and that makes the imposition of a moral belief okay? Is it an abuse of power to take advantage of ones position to make such an imposition? So in our conversation, if a doctor disagrees with abortion or euthanasia, but they are legal and accepted practices does the doctor who opts out of these procedures have the right to use their power position to try and change a patients mind if they request one of these procedures? Many Christians believe that these are objective moral wrongs because they kill a human being. So instead of simply saying as a doctor, “I do not perform this procedure” should they also explain why the procedure is wrong in attempt to convince the patient who supports the practice of such? Should the doctor try and change the patient’s conviction because theirs differs? Part of me says no, people are entitled to their own opinion, but I am not satisfied with this deduction. If someone feels strongly that something is absolutely wrong, then not only should they not partake in it, but they should not condone it either. Medical ethics can be extremely controversial, but I think that the underlying question of do we have the right to impose our beliefs, religious or not, upon others when it is of serious matter? This comes back to the evidence that Dawkins requires. To hold the belief ourselves, we may not need evidence, but to convince others we do. But is this practice wrong? Are there issues where we cannot allow for disagreement? I used to think not, but now I am not really sure. At this point I go back and forth with whether or not it is right for someone to try and enforce their convictions, moral or other, on others when there has not been an objective truth defined. 



  1. I have never been inclined to spreading my faith to others, even friends. For whatever reason, I simply do not discuss it often. Some of my closest friends are atheists, others agnostic, and I respect their personal beliefs. I can see how issues of morality can complicate things, however, regardless of one’s religious stance. The questions raised in this post make me think about what my role is in the situation. Hypothetically-What is my role as a doctor? Perhaps it is to provide the best medical service with open respect to the patient’s choices. However-What is my role as a Christian? One could say it is to follow Christ in order to guide myself and others toward a holy life. The tension you are discussing here seems to be when these roles conflict with one another and we are forced to choose our role. We feel pulled to play the role of the Christian, but do not want to overstep our boundaries. Some may say that being a Christian should be given superior authority above the other roles we play, as your friend seems to imply. I’m not sure I have an answer for this, but it gives me insight into the ways I choose to act. Does anybody else have any thoughts on this?

  2. I think Catherine raises some excellent questions in this post that everyone, particularly those working in the medical field, should consider. As Catherine articulated, one may not need evidence to believe in an idea, yet evidence is required to convince another to believe in that same idea. In terms of medical dilemmas, I believe that medical professionals have a responsibility to act, or not act, in a way that this in accordance with their own belief systems. Yet, should they explain their dealings and their motives to others? Humans naturally desire to share their own beliefs with others, but how do we share them? When explaining one’s own ideas, I think the first objective should be to explain why or why not you believe in and internalize that notion, providing evidence. After that, a medical professional should feel free to offer another treatment option. Obviously, discussions about situations involving moral dilemmas are more difficult than discussions about straightforward medical procedures. However, a doctor is called to recommend the treatment plan that he/she believes to be the best option. Yet, a doctor cannot impose their beliefs on their patients. If a patient desires a treatment plan that the doctor is unwilling to perform or feels uncomfortable with, the doctor should be willing to recommend another physician who would proceed with the patient’s request. I think that these medical issues are difficult situations that must be handled humbly and carefully by all involved. There are no black and white answers, and Catherine did a great job expressing these dilemmas.

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