Three words that inhibit communication
Here are three words, used often in reference to religion, that are so ambiguous that they inhibit meaningful conversations. When one of these words comes up in conversation and the meaning is not clear, we should press for more precise language.
“Good” — does it mean “beneficial” or “approved”? When someone says “Everything God does is good,” they probably don’t mean that everything their god does is beneficial to everyone; they probably mean that their god approves all of his own actions. But when someone is pleased with something that has happened and they say “God is good!” they mean that their god did something that was beneficial to someone. Press for a specific meaning.
“Believe” — does it mean “consider likely,” “consider true,” or “know to be true”? When someone says “I believe life begins at conception, so it’s my duty to stop people from getting morning-after pills,” they are taking a claim that they can only consider likely or true and treating it as if they know it to be true — to the point that they feel justified in interfering with other people’s pregnancies. Press for a specific meaning.
“Faith” — does it mean “religious affiliation” or “set of assertions considered true, independent of evidence”? When someone says “My faith tells me that marriage is between one man and one woman,” they could mean “My religious affiliation tells me … ” or “My assumptions in spite of the evidence tell me … .” Neither of these is a defensible reason to believe something, but it would still be helpful to know which reason is being invoked. Press for a specific meaning.