Today, I thought I’d address a question from one of the folks who have commented on my blog. The question is a common one: why do you speak out against religion? Aka can’t we just all get along? J The link to the comment that sparked this blog entry is here. I will have to say I’m kind of amused since the poster, Tela, said she wasn’t interested in arguing about this topic but she does have a lot to say. Sorry, Tela, but I feel you *are* arguing against my points, and I’m taking the opportunity to demonstrate how I think you are wrong. (Some of these topics have been covered before on other posts here).
In a perfect world, I probably could remain quiet and let theists and their nonsense alone, but this is not a perfect world. Many theists do all they can to force others to accept their religion. Here in the US, we have conservative Christians doing anything they can to force everyone to worship like they do. And they want to force *everyone*, be they another type of Christian, atheists, agnostics or worshippers of other religions.
I am “hell-bent” on limiting religion and countering its baseless claims since I see that it causes harm to many people. I will not say you can’t worship some nonsensical being, but I will do my best to show how your worship is ridiculous, nothing better than the tooth fairy. There is nothing about religion that deserves respect.
I do not see that religion benefits anyone and what little benefit might be gleaned out of religion by chance can easily be found elsewhere, without the tribal strings attached. At one point, religion may have been useful, getting a group of people together to do something beneficial to all. Now, all I see are thousands of sects, most if not all claiming that anyone who believes differently than them are damned at worst and who should be converted at best.
I understand that not all theists try to shove their religion down others throats, but those that want to will not take no for an answer. Since many moderate theists and agnostics will not speak loudly against their theocratic brethren, it’s up to the atheists that are willing to defend the rights of everyone to worship whatever they want or not worship anything at all. Some of atheists are more accommodating than others. I know that some atheists simple don’t want to bother with thinking about the problem and hope it will go away. Some hope that they can work with moderate or liberal theists and those theists will not take their rights away with them. Some want absolute power to eradicate religion which requires just as much control as theocrats want. I am, obviously, not of that any of these stripes. We vary wildly in what we think.
I find that moderate theists rarely speak out against other theists since their religion is based on the same baseless claims that other religions are. They see the weakness in their own religion and do not want to expose themselves. I find that many agnostics will not speak out against theocrats because they still want the option that the divine exists for some reason; one reason I’m guessing is that like most humans, they do not like to be wrong. I would ask Tela or any agnostic, what makes you think that there is a possibility of a god and how do you define “god? Why do you not believe in the Christian one? or the Islam one or say, the Wiccan one? Why do you say “maybe” and not yes or no?
Next, I want to give a couple example of why we can’t be sent to our respective corners to shake hands and show how it’s the other side that has no desire to change when change is needed.
To effect change in a culture, it takes a lot of work. We’ve seen this in civil rights, animal rights, environmental protection, etc. There is one side that wishes a status quo that does not change. They benefit from it. Religion is notorious for this. It comes from dogma that one’s god is the only right one to worship and that its laws are unchangeable. However, others dogmas are hard to change too. For instance, we have animal rights activists who speak out against cruelty to animals. These groups range from the Humane Society, to the SPCA, to the more radical groups, like PETA. Now, I find PETA a pain in the ass, but they have rocked the boat like no others. We would still be uselessly testing shampoo on rabbits if they and people like them didn’t raise a ruckus back in the 80s. Same for Greenpeace in the 70s. We have a chance that whales will recover; at one point, we had no time to endlessly consider if we should let them or not.
The loud groups would not sit down and shut up and they would not completely obey moderates who wanted to approach the problems gradually. We have the same on the civil rights side, with a Malcolm X to counter a Martin Luther King, a Emmeline Parkhurst and a Elizabeth Cady Stanton to a Susan B. Anthony and I’m sure the folks in the gay rights movment varied in their approach too. The loud groups shook the pillars of heaven and got things done and they did make their compatriots uncomfortable. Other might have found them loud, aggressive and unrelenting but from history, we see that the short, sharp shock is how things change the quickest for the better.
Tela claims that she has adored Christians and hasn’t been the target of hate and ridicule for her lack of belief. I’m glad for that and I will have to say I love some Christians too, but that does not mean that others like them are not trying to force their sects of their religion on others and that they do not persecute others. They may think that they are doing you a favor in forcing their religion on you, and you have been taught that this is a “good” thing but that does not mean that they are doing you a favor or that this is a good thing in any sense. They are not doing anyone a “solid”; they are trying to gain external validation by increasing the herd that agrees with them. They intentionally spread lies and nonsense. Tela seems to forget that in history people were killed by these folks, there was no option for “thanks but no thanks”, and the only thing is preventing the bad old days from coming back is the secular laws of this country.
I can agree that Tela has met some atheists who were good people and some who were angry and hateful. A lot of people have been very hurt by religion and have every right in the world to be angry. When someone tells you a lie, you have the right to be angry. When someone tells you that you deserve to be eternally torturedl, you have the right to be angry. It takes a while to get over that disappointment, loss and grief when one realizes that religion is simply nonsense. It’s very easy to be angry at and hate a fictional character that you were told agreed with everything you thought and that would protect you from every horrible occurrence when that myth fails. Some people may or may not get over that part of being an atheist. Anger isn’t always a bad thing, sometimes it gets us off our asses to do something about what causes that anger.
However, not all atheists are angry. There are a lot of atheists who never were theists and there are a lot of atheists who have done their due diligence and have plenty of facts to base their conclusions of atheism on. Many non-atheists seem to feel like simply all atheists must be only angry, though. It’s a lot easier to accept that someone is emotionally distraught rather than that their conclusions are based on facts. I can imagine this even threatening to an agnostic, because it takes away even the chance of a being that cares for you and agrees with you. It’s a big scary universe out there and humans love to hope that it has some “purpose”. If there is none, then we are left up to our own devices. I still get angry, make no mistake. I get very angry when someone intentionally spreads lies because they want others to think some god agrees with their very human hates and desires.
I don’t only “feel” a need to show that religion is harmful nonsense, there *is* a need for that to be done. Religious nonsense needs to be stood against to keep everyone safe from false claims of magical healing, to make sure all our kids get a good education based on facts not myths, to keep kids safe from predators who claim that they speak for a “god”, to allow others to worship as they want or not at all. Everyone benefits from this. Tela, I’d mention your granddaughter, who is happily recovered from a medical emergency. If there were no people resisting religious dogma, do you think she’d have as much access to medical advancements as she did? If we allowed religions to force their beliefs on others, would blood transfusions be refused if Jehovah’s Witnesses were in power? We have religions now who want to give the ability to refuse insurance for something the boss doesn’t like. Would anesthesia be around if some one thought that humans “should” feel pain because of the original sin nonsense? Yes, it sounds ridiculous now, to say that religion can so influence society. However, women have only had the vote for 93 years and religions were standing against that too. Yep, some were for it. And which side had the god in its ranks? Both certainly thought so and both were wrong from every bit of evidence that can be found.
There’s a term “rough men” used in this quote: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” It’s attributed to various people, Orwell, Churchill, Kipling, etc. It makes it clear that people have to make a stand to keep their freedom, and may have to do things that aren’t “polite” to do so. To me, that’s what all of these in your face iconoclasts were when they advocated for women’s rights, animal rights and human rights. They would not take a step back. They said “”No further.”
I am one of the “rough men” who guards everyone’s ability to not believe in a religion if you don’t want to or to believe in whatever you want. I can understand that most people do not want to even think that there is a problem. It’s far from their regular lives and it’s easiest to pretend there aren’t theists who want to force a theocracy on everyone. But that is relinquishing your responsibility to those who would to the hard dirty work of driving back all theocratic attempts at extinguishing freedom. Those Christians who are pushing an “intolerant, ugly agenda ie, anti homosexual, etc” are just as much Christians are those who are tolerant, sure that homosexuals are fine, etc. Both claim that a magical being gave them a magical book and that they have the only “right’ way to interpret it. It is this thinking that some divine being is supporting them that is the most dangerous part because they feel they don’t have to explain their actions. They can just claim that their god wants it and they’ll do it without thought.
I’ll finish by using your last quote. “I would love to see you take on Westboro Baptist Church ” 🙂 . That might be the crux of the argument right there. You would like to see me do this but do not seem willing yourself (I hope I am wrong). It takes everyone to stand up to people who would take freedom away, not just a few.
9 thoughts on “Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – A question “Why do you speak out against religion?””
I’m not sure, but I think I am honored by your post. But, I think that I somehow offended you and that wasn’t my intent. Because I do not have a background in religion and because I don’t really have a stake in either side of the issue, I’m afraid I am a little naive. I truly wanted only to understand the argument better. That would necessarily include motive. You answered my question. I’m sorry that you think that my intent was, in fact, to argue, because it wasn’t. I have come to this subject and your insightful posts because I am interested. Not because I want to rebuff it. I am just someone searching for answers and brain food.
You asked: “… what makes you think that there is a possibility of a god and how do you define “god? Why do you not believe in the Christian one? or the Islam one or say, the Wiccan one? Why do you say “maybe” and not yes or no?”
An honest question and one I hope to do justice to. I claim to be agnostic because I am ignorant and because I have not decided for myself what/who or if any supreme power exists. Certainly, I am against the notion of a God of Christianity/Judaism/Islam. I do know that much. I have no belief in the bible as written by God. (I think it is a good history book, though.) I suppose, the thing that confuses me is that I believe that something created everything and set it in motion. I don’t know what that is and I look to science to figure it out. I don’t believe that whatever that was has a stake in our daily lives. I marvel at the way the natural world was created and think there is a force greater than ourselves which started it all; however, I do not worship anything. I’m afraid that’s the best answer that I can come up with. It sounds simple, but that’s it.
You miss quoted me. I said that I have met Christians that I have adored. It’s true. They were good people who had no interest in converting me. I have met some who were evil incarnate, as well. One was a misogynist who beat the hell out of his wife for fun. She, being the submissive Christian wife that was, took it. I live in the Baptist Bible Belt. I totally see a lot of really crap Christians. But, my take home message isn’t that they are all evil or that I adore them all.
I haven’t, personally, met a lot of atheists. For whatever reasons. I have to go by what I see in the media. The old saying, if it bleeds; it leads, comes to mind. Atheists are not usually portrayed in a positive light. (I read a lot of different online news sources.) Which is why I am interested in your blog. I like that you use reason and valid arguments to back up your belief. I am a curious person. I have been glad to “see” an atheist upfront who doesn’t turn me off with, with what is typically, hateful rhetoric. So, your blog and style and reasoned arguments is attracting the curious and open minded, that’s a good thing. I no more want to read vitriol from an atheist as I do from a believer.
I have been very honest. I have been because I know no other way. I am by no stretch of the imagination educated in the subject of atheism and C/J/I. I haven’t even read the bible clear through. I only know what I think, feel, see and believe. My question to you was an honest one. I had no ulterior motives.
I’m glad my comments gave you food for thought, though. There are a lot of people like me and I think you do do atheists a service by examining the motive behind your public arguments against C/J/I or whatever supreme being.
As for my taking on Westboro- you have probably noticed that I don’t have the power of persuasion that you possess. However, if the opportunity came for me to locally picket against them, I certainly would. They disgust me on many levels.
No, you didn’t offend me at all, Tela. I wanted to make sure you understood why I do what I do and I was also speaking to a wider audience. You’d be surprised on how many Christians have decided to follow my blog. I think about half the followers are that. weirdly enough. You made claims and I took them to task since I thought they were somewhat in error.
I am fascinated in agnostics. I at one point thought that was a good term for me, but then I had to sit down and think, well, what did I think was possibly out there? I’m glad you took the time to answer my question. You seem to believe in a creator. The next question is do you think this creator needs to be a thinking being? If not, then if you are only thinking of a “force”, then it’s not such a hop over onto atheism. A force, just whatever laws came to be, I’m good with that and that’s seems to be what reality supports. I completely understand that atheism has a connotation of being “bad” in our society. That’s what I’m trying to change too.
I’ll have to tell you, the bible is not a good history book. Very little of it can be shown to be historical at all. Depending on the version, it can be a nice bit of literature. Kinda like reading the Norse Eddas or something like that. I’m a big fan of mythology.
I’m sorry for misquoting you. I’ll ask you a question about those nasty theists though. Do you understand that religion doesn’t seem to make people better but sure seems to make them worse? That is one of my points about religion, thinking that some deity approves gives a human carte blanche to do a lot of nasty things.
You are right, atheists are not often portrayed in a positive light. And aggressive atheists even less so. But that was the way it’s always been, one upsets the status quo, then one is decried as “evil”. If atheists would have remained quiet, not having people like Dawkins, Hitchens, Madelyn Murray O’Hare, etc then we would still be in the closet and still stigmatized and stuck being hypocrites. A lot of people call atheists who speak out “new atheists”. It’s not that we’re new at all. Atheists use to get standing room only for talks they gave back in the 19th century and early 20th, like Robert Ingersoll. It is only now when evangelical Christianity is so virulent, theocratic and so pervasive that someone saying “stop”, it shocks everyone.
I’m glad you’d picket the Westboro twits and figured you would. They haven’t come close enough for me to warrant the expense of picketing them. And the last time I saw some Christians like them, was down at the atheist meeting in DC last year. Poor things were vastly outnumbered. 🙂
I’m glad I didn’t offend you. I understand the post is for a wider audience.
You pose two very interesting questions.
First- concerning my personal brand of agnosticism. Your question is at the very heart of my claim to being agnostic. I really can’t, intellectually, rule out a thinking being anymore than I can rule out a natural phenomenon. I think the real question would be- if I came to believe in a “higher” thinking being as a creator, would I then worship it? That answer would be an emphatic NO, since I have already stated that I don’t believe there is a deity who is involved in our everyday lives. I don’t believe for a second that whatever began all this demands us worship it.
I don’t believe that science can or that it does does rule out a thinking being- at least, not at this point in our understanding- so I vacillate. That’s my honest answer.
As an aside, I know a lot of science people and bona fide geniuses. They are all deists of one flavor or another. I went on an 8 hour road trip with one once, who explained to me, through quantum physics, how Jesus can have lived and died as the bible claimed. It was utterly fascinating and made a lot of sense, although I don’t believe a word of it.
The notion of a God has always been easier for me to fathom than the notion of a middle man- Christ. It defies all logic- on every level- and even seems blasphemous to their own religion. Consider the commandment not to worship others, for example. (… and don’t even get me started on Catholicism.)
Secondly, I can not agree that religion makes all people worse. I do believe that religion can and does bring out the worst in a lot of people. And, by worst, I’m talking genocide, etc. The worst of humanity has been done in the name of religion. Fact. However, I know first hand that religion has helped people become better people and to do good works. I think it has as much to do with the person you are to begin with as much as it is does to any religion. I think it depends on who you chose to follow, also. Some places of worship are better than others. I had a roommate who was very evangelical. She was a genuinely good, simple person. I visited lots of churches with her. (Not for the sake of religion, mind you, but for the experience.) A few of them gave me the screaming heebie jeebies! Seriously, some of these folks are deranged. I don’t care who or what they believed in, they were just weird- and not in a good way. Then there were other ones that were totally down to earth and seemed to be governed more by a sense of community than anything else. So, in a larger sense, I agree that religion has been driving force for evil. But, I think on a personal level, it can be good.
This has been really thought provoking and I thank you for it. 🙂
first, just a note to say I had to add a link to the post. I hadn’t realized “short sharp shock” came from Gilbert and Sullivan, and the context certainly makes it depend on your perspective if a short sharp shock is a good thing or not. 🙂
Tela, you make an excellent point that the middle man concept, e.g. Jesus Christ, makes even less sense than a god. And catholicism is quite a syncretic religion, they are all about grabbing anything they think will work.
I think science does rule out a thinking being. Perhaps, i should say a *smart* thinking being. All we see are hack jobs in evolution, the universe, etc. Of course the thinking being could be a type of Squire of Gothos or Q, and just not give a damn, but put the bizarreness in because it’s bored. 🙂
As for explaining how JC could have returned from the dead via quantum mechanics? Well, I’ll have to say that’s a rather….unique….idea. I don’t see how that could work but I’m always open to interesting claims.
Let me see if I can state my point about religion making all people worse clearer. I know that atheists can be utter assholes when they want. But religion seems to only make people worse. One can get better with it, but its not the only way to get better. People can get better from say, drug abuse, and religion is not needed. Peole can become more empathic and religion is not needed. People do good works and religion is not needed. But religion’s root idea, that one group is better than others and has a right idea, seems to me to only lead to genocide, etc. That probably still isn’t as clear as it could be but I’m running out of ideas.
If you haven’t been in the library part of this blog, I heartily recommend it. It has a lot of info that you might find fun to read.
Tela, I think you will agree with me that most of the media reports, if they are TV or radio, are reported by theists and are thus most likely to portray Atheists in a bad light but that aside, Atheists are just like every one else except they lack a belief in gods.
We come in many stripes, some are not any different from the theists, some are very cool and most I think can defend the reasons for their Atheism.
Oh yes, I am not using a broad brush. I totally believe what you say. 🙂
I agree that most media is governed by the status quo and ratings, whether they are theists themselves or not, they have theists dollars in mind.
I put the Atheist Blogroll button on my blog in large part because I rarely write about atheism. It’s the idea behind the out campaign. Not that I think I’m necessarily doing atheists any favors; I can be as much of a jerk as anyone, I suppose. My sister’s a real sweetheart. She just has that kind of congenial personality. She hates arguing and she hates conflict. At the same time, she one of the biggest atheists I know. Since we don’t look different than anyone else, people often only know that we’re atheists when we’re actively arguing about it – something I do almost never outside of the internet. The media and the internet can be very distorting that way. You probably encounter atheists, both online and off, all the time without knowing it because no one’s talking about it.
Makes two of us!