So I participated in the second Ideological Turing Test contest at Leah Libresco’s Unequally Yoked, both with own entries and by voting on those of everyone else. I don’t think I have to explain the concept, because near everyone reading this is coming here from UEY in the first place. (Let’s face it, for the moment I’m pretty much running a satellite blog.)
In this post I want to discuss my strategy, i.e. the basic framework of my entries. A second post on tactics, i.e. on fake detection heuristics and to avoid them will follow.
I wrote my Christian (honest) entry first. On the whole I’m mostly satisfied with it. I had a bit of a goal conflict in writing it though.
On the one hand I wanted to give an impression of the inside feeling and point to some things that can’t be fully explained. I think I did an adequate job of it, though I didn’t have enough space on the art question. I tried to hit two birds with one stone and also answer a question Leah had recently asked about why people like A Canticle for Leibowitz. That turned out to be a bit over-ambitious for 200 words. I really wanted to explain how exactly Canticle points to the things it points to. I would also have liked to explain how the post-apocalyptic church has a very plausible feel of Catholicism having changed but stayed the same in a radically changed culture, about the Earth=Eden imagery, etc. But I couldn’t do it in 200 words and I think the whole answer seemed a bit like name-dropping some famous literature as if I was trying to signal sophistication. But I think my answer to the deference question mostly compensates for that. It’s the favorite part of my answer and I wouldn’t change anything about it.
On the other hand I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do some explaining to the captive atheist audience. That’s really visible in question two (on trusting other peoples morality). I think many atheist have a very wrong idea of how Catholics deal with authority. To meta-straw-man their straw-man, they think authority suppresses the intellect rather than guiding it. And since opinions can’t be changed by simple acts of the will we must be doing loads of doublethink. I think my explanation might actually help them understand how it really works, so I’ll call success on the explaining goal too.
One problem is that I didn’t quite manage to integrate my two goals into a coherent whole. Comparing my answers to question two and the other two questions they seem like they were written by completely different people.
But overall those are details. Sure, if I was a better writer I would have written better. Well duh, but I still got my message across.
A fairly popular strategy for fake entries seems to be to answer as an alternative or former version of oneself who just happens to be on the other side. This year Jacob and Matt DeStefano admitted to that strategy as did Leah and her Christian friend Tristyn last year. This strategy worked for Leah and Matt, but for me it would be a total non-starter. The problem is that my Catholicism doesn’t boil down to only one question. Some parts directly depend on the God question. For example, if there is no God nothing happens at the Eucharist, there is no afterlife etc. But other questions are more severable. For example, if I had just lost my faith, I would still hold a natural law theory of morality including it’s less popular consequences in things like contraception. There was a point in time at witch I actually came very close to switching to that position. But I think it would make for about the least plausible entry imaginable.
The other extreme of the strategic continuum would be imitating a very boring representative of the other side. That was last year’s dominant strategy and this years rules were constructed to discourage it. It also misses the point of understanding the other side.
My strategy was a compromise. From my honest answers I subtracted the parts that wouldn’t fly and then filled the large gaps in with average atheist ideas. For example, I didn’t think I could sell a socially conservative atheist so I made my atheist somewhat leftist. I also made him slightly Yudkowskian, but I didn’t go all in on that because I didn’t want too much of a stereotype. Effectively my atheist doesn’t have much of a coherent philosophy and I papered that over with pragmatism and distaste for abstract speculation. This isn’t so far from standard Internet atheism. Think of atheists assuring us how they are “good without gods” but mostly being totally disinterested in explaining the theoretical side of that. It’s totally un-me though, one of the things I really value in Catholicism is consistency.
I tried to do most of my shamming by telling carefully selected parts of the truth. This was easiest on question 3. I actually can recommend all the art I recommended for pretty much the reasons my atheist recommended it.
Small Gods was hilarious when I read it years ago. I was pretty much as reactionary a Catholic then as I am now and I did recognize the propaganda, but I still liked it because it was so funny. Real me would add that we Catholics still win the funny propaganda game if one looks at Guareschi’s stories of Don Camillo and Peppone or, stereotypically, pretty much anything by Chesterton. And it does get combined with the depth that Small Gods lacks, though being unsettled for days is probably asking a bit much. For that you would have to go to the literature I recommended on the Christian round.
Going on, I actually do care about empathy, what with my lord wanting me to love my neighbor and all. And while it’s not the first example real me would think of, gay people actually are one group we religious folks often lack empathy for. Actually on some level I would like to pretend they don’t exist even though I realize that is not a real option. And There’s a girl actually does give me a glimpse of the hurt that must cause and make me feel bad about it. The other shoe is, of course, that I still think marriage is between a man and a woman and homogenital acts are immoral. The church really needs to figure out how we can make the sacrifice we’re asking of gay people bearable rather than adding to it. This surely requires killing off our ew-reflex, but what else should we be doing? There really are loads of hard questions here. And now I’m going to cop out of trying to answer them by sending you off tho the standard gay Catholic blogs: Eve Tushnet and Steve Gershom.
Finally, the classical pieces I linked to actually do stir up emotions I can’t fully verbalize. Not much more to explain here.
But I couldn’t find a way for my atheist to find awe and world-view-expression in a single piece of art. So I think his art appreciation will have to remain restless until it rests in God.
Question two was a little more difficult. My real answer was about conscience-forming, but I didn’t think I could sell an atheist version of that. I know of an atheist who might answer in a somewhat similar way: Leah herself. But she is a very atypical atheist and I wouldn’t know how to sever that idea from her other quirks.
So basically my atheist’s answer was a sugar-coated “no”. The sugar-coating was basically about listening to other peoples moral opinions even if we don’t recognize them as authoritative. I did this by carefully selected truths too. I can actually endorse all the examples my atheist gave. The minor caveat is that the first example is selected to communicate his leftist sensibilities. It’s not wrong, but it’s not the first example the real me would think of. Also the language is tuned to match that leftism. I actually think the concept liberals call “privilege” has some merit, but I am far too reactionary to approve of the word. Words have meaning and I’m very unsympathetic to politically motivated language changes. I grumblingly admit that it’s too late for a rollback on “gay” but I won’t give any linguistic ground that might still be defensible.
I also added an atheist trope I’m no longer happy with, but I’ll discuss that in the upcoming tactics post.
Question one was the most difficult. Duh, my atheist doesn’t really have a philosophical system to defer to. Effectively I made him explain why he doesn’t think he should have one. I think this is his least attractive aspect and I wonder if it will come back to haunt me on the attractiveness ratings yet to be revealed.
I think my answer comes dangerously close to acknowledging we can’t redeem ourselves. Basically my atheist knows he is defective both morally and cognitively, though he probably doesn’t realize the latter is a major cause of the former. But I couldn’t make him buy in to the fantasy of cognitive self-redemption that nowadays gets sold as “rationalism” in atheist circles.
So he ends up with a plan to patch some details but essentially no solution.
So in some way all my atheist’s answers are less attractive than my real ones. Take it all together and my atheist pretty much does have the God-shaped hole in his heart we Christians like to talk about. What can I say? I think that’s how it is.