Why Should Religion Get A Free Ride?


This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?

We try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We try to persuade people that their ideas about science, politics, philosophy, art, medicine, and more, are wrong: that they’re harmful, ridiculous, repulsive, or simply mistaken. But when it comes to religion, trying to persuade people out of their ideas is somehow seen as horribly rude at best, invasive and bigoted and intolerant at worst. Why? Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve been writing about atheism for about six years now. In those six years, I’ve asked this question more times, and of more different believers, than I could possibly remember. And not once have I gotten a satisfying answer. In fact, only once in my career do I recall getting any answer at all. I’ve asked this question more times than I can remember… and with one exception, what I’ve gotten in response has been crickets chirping and tumbleweeds blowing by. I’ve been ignored, I’ve had the subject changed, I’ve had people get personally nasty, I’ve had people abandon the conversation altogether. But only once have I ever gotten any kind of actual answer. And that answer sucked. (I’ll get to it in a bit.) I’ve heard lots of people tell me, at length and with great passion, that trying to persuade people out of their religion is bad and wrong and mean… but I haven’t seen a single real argument explaining why this is such a terrible thing to do with religion, and yet is somehow perfectly okay to do with all other ideas.

So I want to get to the heart of this matter. I don’t want to bring it up as a side point in another discussion: I want to focus on this question alone. Why should religion be treated differently from all other kinds of ideas? Why shouldn’t we criticize it, and make fun of it, and try to persuade people out of it… the way we do with every other kind of idea?

In a free society, in the marketplace of ideas, we try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We criticize ideas we disagree with; we question ideas we find puzzling; we excoriate ideas we find repugnant; we make fun of ideas we think are silly. And we think this is acceptable. In fact, we think it’s positively good. We think this is how good ideas rise to the surface, and bad ideas get filtered out. We might have issues with exactly how this persuasion is carried out: is it done politely or rudely, reasonably or hysterically, did you really have to bring it up at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. But the basic idea of trying to convince other people that your ideas are right and theirs are wrong… this is not controversial.

Except when it comes to religion.

Why?

Religion is an idea about the world. Thousands of different ideas, really, but with one basic idea at the core of them all: the idea of the supernatural. Religion is the hypothesis that the world is the way that it is, entirely or in part, because of supernatural beings or forces acting on the natural world. It’s an idea about how the world works — every bit as much as the germ theory of disease, or the theory that matter is made up of atoms, or the wacky notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

And religion is a very specific kind of idea about the world. Religion is a truth claim. It’s not a subjective matter of personal experience or opinion, like, “I’m a one-woman man,” or “Harry Potter is better than Lord of the Rings.” It is a statement about what is and is not literally true in the non-subjective world.

So if we think it’s a mistaken idea, why shouldn’t we try to convince other people of that?

We do this with every other kind of truth claim. If people think that disease is caused by demonic possession, or that global climate change is a hoax, or that deregulating the financial industry will lead to a robustly healthy economy for all levels of society — and we think these people are wrong — we try to change their minds. Why should religion be any different?

Now, of course, religion is more than just an idea. People build communities, personal identities, support systems, coping mechanisms, entire life philosophies, around their religious beliefs.

But people build identities around other ideas, too. People have intense political identities, for instance: people are often deeply attached to their identity as a progressive, or a Republican, or a libertarian. People build communities around these ideas, and support systems, and coping mechanisms, and life philosophies. And we still think it’s entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas if we think they’re wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

It’s also the case that letting go of religious beliefs can be upsetting, even traumatic. In the short term anyway. Most atheists say that they’re happy to have let go of their religion… but many do go through a short period of trauma while they’re letting go.

But it can be upsetting, and even traumatic, to let go of all kinds of ideas. It can be upsetting and traumatic to learn that the clothes and chocolate and electronics you’re buying are made by slave labor; that the food you’re feeding your children is bad for them; that you have unconscious racist or sexist attitudes; that driving your car is contributing to global climate change and the possible permanent destruction of the environment.

And yet we still think it’s valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas if we think they’re wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

Yes, there’s a tremendous diversity of religious ideas — a diversity that makes up a large part of our complex cultural tapestry. But we have a tremendous diversity of ideas about politics, too… and about science, and race, and gender, and sexuality, and more. When we look at our history, our complex cultural tapestry has included alchemy, and Jim Crow laws, and preventing women from voting, and curing the “disease” of masturbation, and treating yellow fever epidemics by shooting cannonballs into the air. The world is better off without those ideas. We still have a rich cultural tapestry of diverse lifestyles and worldviews without them. And we still think it was entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas when we thought they were wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

It’s also true that persuading people out of their religion is often seen as proselytizing or evangelizing. Proselytizing or evangelizing about religion has a bad reputation. And there are good reasons for that. Religious evangelists have an ugly history of fearmongering, deception, outright lying, applying economic pressure, using law or force or even violence, to “persuade” people out of their religious beliefs. Not to mention the little matter of knocking on people’s doors at eight o’clock on Saturday morning. It’s no wonder people are resistant to it.

But if that’s not what atheists are advocating? If we’re not advocating any sort of force or coercion, or even any sort of pressure apart from the mild social pressure created by people not wanting to look foolish by hanging onto bad ideas? If what we’re advocating is writing blog posts, writing magazine articles, writing books, wearing T-shirts, putting up billboards, getting into conversations with our friends and families, getting into debates on Facebook? If what we’re advocating is getting our atheist ideas more widely disseminated and understood, and creating atheist communities so people who share our ideas feel safer expressing them? If what we’re advocating is essentially standing up and saying, “The Emperor has no clothes” — and offering the best evidence and arguments we can for the Emperor’s nakedness?

What is so terrible about that? We do that with every other kind of idea. Why shouldn’t we do it with religion?

Why should religion be any different?

And it’s certainly true that, throughout history, many attempts to “persuade” people out of their religion have resulted in persecution — or have provided the rationalization for it. Human beings have an ugly, bloody, terrible history of persecuting each other over religious differences: anti-Catholic hostility in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, anti-Muslim hostility in much of Europe today, the Crusades, the Holocaust… the list goes on And religious persecution often goes hand-in-hand with classism, jingoistic nationalism, ethnic hatreds, and racism — rendering it even uglier. A lot of people can only see persuading people out of religion in this context of persecution, and are horrified by it. And while I disagree with their ultimate analysis, I can certainly understand their horror.

But religion isn’t the only idea whose adherents have historically been targeted with persecution. Political ideas certainly have been. To take an obvious example: Look at Communism. People who thought Communism was a good idea had their lives utterly destroyed. Even if they weren’t actually trying to overthrow the government. Even if all they were doing was writing, or creating art, or gassing on in cafes with their friends. Even if they weren’t really Communists. McCarthyism and other Red scares destroyed the lives of countless people who were simply suspected of being Communists. And like religious persecution, anti-Communist fervor has often been closely tied with nationalism, ethnic hostilities, and more. Immigrants from Eastern Europe, for instance, were often feared and despised as “dirty Commies,” with the political hostility becoming inextricably tangled with the xenophobic nationalism, and each form of hostility feeding the other.

Does that mean we shouldn’t criticize Communism? Does that mean that, if we think Communism isn’t a particularly good system for structuring an economy, we should just keep our mouths shut?

When we criticize religion — just as when we criticize any other kind of idea — we do need to make sure that criticism of the idea doesn’t turn into persecution of its adherents. We need to draw a careful line between criticizing ideas and marginalizing people. We need to remember that people who disagree with us are still people, deserving of basic compassion and respect.

But we need to draw that line with every kind of idea. Political, scientific, artistic ideas — all of them. And we don’t exempt any other kind of idea from criticism, just because that kind of idea has often been targeted with persecution.

Why should religion be any different?

Why should religion be treated any differently from any other kind of idea about the world? Why, alone among all other ideas, should it be protected from criticism, questions, mockery when it’s ridiculous, excoriation when it’s appalling? Why, alone among all other ideas, should we not try to persuade people out of it if we think it’s mistaken?

Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve asked this question more times than I can remember. And I’ve only ever gotten one straight answer. In one argument on Facebook (which was ages ago, so unfortunately I can’t find it and link to it), the person I was debating argued that religious debates and disagreements have a bad history. All too often, they’ve led to hostility, hatred, tribalism, bigotry, even violence and wars. Therefore, he argued, it was best to just avoid debates about the topic altogether.

You know what? He’s right. When it comes to the divisiveness of religion, he’s totally right.

And that’s an argument for my side — not his.

I completely agree with his basic assessment. Religion does tend to be more divisive than other topics. It’s a point Daniel Dennet made in his book, Breaking the Spell: In a weird but very real psychological paradox, people tend to defend ideas more ferociously when we don’t have very good evidence supporting them.

Look at it this way. If people come over the hill and tell us that the sky is orange, we can clearly see that the sky is blue… so we can easily shrug off their ridiculous idea, and we don’t feel a powerful need to defend our own perception. But if people come over the hill and tell us that God comes in three parts, one of whom is named Jesus, and this three-in-one god really wants us not to eat meat on Fridays — and we think there is no god but Allah, and he really wants us to never eat pork or draw pictures of real things — we don’t have any way to settle the disagreement. The only evidence supporting our belief is, “My parents tell me,” My religious leader tells me,” “My holy book tells me,” or “I feel it in my heart.” And if we care about our belief — if it’s not some random trivial opinion, if it’s central to our personal and social identity — we have a powerful tendency to double down, to entrench ourselves more deeply and more passionately in our belief. We can’t have a rational, evidence-based debate about the matter. The only way to defend our own belief is with bigotry, tribalism, and violence.

But if religious differences really are more likely to lead to bigotry, tribalism, violence, etc…. doesn’t that show what a bad idea it is? If the ideas of religion are so poorly rooted in reality that there’s no way to resolve differences other than forming battle lines and screaming or shooting across them… doesn’t that strongly suggest that this is a truly crappy idea, and humanity should let go of it? Doesn’t that suggest that persuading people out of it is a really good thing to do?

So yeah. This wasn’t such a great answer. But at least it was an answer. At least it wasn’t a changing of the topic, a moving of the goalposts, a deterioration into personal insult, a complete abandonment of the conversation altogether. Every other time that I’ve asked, “Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?”, I’ve been met with what was essentially silence.

I’ve gotten tremendous hostility over the years for my attempts to persuade people out of religion. I’ve been called a racist and a cultural imperialist, trying to stamp out the beautiful tapestry of human diversity and make everyone in the world exactly like me. I’ve been called a fascist, have been compared to Stalin and Glenn Beck. My atheist activism has been compared to the genocide of the Native Americans. I’ve even been called “evil in one of its purest forms.” As have many other atheist writers — I’m hardly the only target of this. All this, for trying to persuade people that their idea is mistaken, and our idea is correct. The atheism itself gets hostile opposition as well, of course: it gets called immoral, amoral, hopeless, meaningless, joyless, and more. But the very idea of presuming to engage in this debate — the very idea of putting religion on one side of a chessboard and atheism on the other, and seeing which one gets check-mated — is regularly treated as a bigoted and intolerant violation of the basic principles of human discourse.

And yet when I ask why — why it’s okay to persuade people out of other ideas but not this one, why religion alone should be exempt from the vigorous criticism that every other idea is expected to stand up to, why religion alone should get a free ride in the marketplace of ideas (and a free ride in an armored car at that), why religion should be the sole exception — I’ve only ever gotten one crappy answer, one time.

Does anyone have a better answer?

Or any answer at all?

Comments

  1. Cara says

    Thank you!!! This is so fantastic and everything I’ve wanted to say on this topic but haven’t been eloquent enough to actually pull off. Sharing with the atheists I know…and once I work up the guts, I want to share it with the believers, too. Thank you thank you!

  2. StevoR says

    “Because the Pope / Ayatollah / Guru said so that’s why!”

    “And don’t question that or you’re insulting my good kind father figure / comfort blankie of choice – who will get his loving, sweet, gentle merciful god to FLIPPPIN’ KIIIILL YOU AND then TORTURE YOU 4evah & evah & evah!!!!”

    Seems to be one big simple self-contradory and logically fallacious “answer” to that question.

    Perhaps its the whole Power corrupts (& is hard to challenge or even think about challneging), Absolute power corrupts Absolutely – and cannot be questioned at all. Or else.

    The ultimate appeal to Authority fallacy.

    [Flashback to comedy skit where Lord Acton – it was, Lord Acton who said that, right? – gets promptly struck by lightning and a huge booming voice from the sky thunders “Cheeekky bastrad!” ~Monty Python?]

  3. candide says

    Well, yes. I am happy to wrestle with a believer in the same weight class as me. But what do you do when confronted with the belief of a dear old widow, whose life has been a bit bleak since her husband’s death, and whose chief comfort is the prospect of reunion with him? I can poke fun at her politics, but I tend to keep off religion.

  4. Egbert says

    Of course, fundamental to having the freedom to criticize is freedom of speech. I can’t emphasize how important it is to allow people with opposing, even contrary opinions to be allowed to say what they think and feel.

  5. says

    I think there are a couple of reasons. 1)Think of your own statement about the pain that atheists go through in their release from religion. Thats done on their own accord, at their own pace. Your presenting the option that a person should stand before you in a discussion, and if they aren’t particularily gifted in debate, risk having that happen to them on someones elses timetable in the course of 5 min. 2) Most discussion points, however personnal, are something external to a person as in they are discussion on points of view, likes/dislikes etc. This one is deep to their core, potentially challenging in one conversation, every single thing they hold dear at once. If you were to attack ( i know your questioning, not attacking) my view on politics and beat me, i could still walk away from that having felt that i was 95% in tact as there are so many facets to me as a person other than my political views. But religion is everything to some people. To allow you to crack that egg, means they have to examine how they raised their kids, who they married, what they learned in school. While it may sound like a question to the question poser in the form of ” hey, lets talk about your belief in this boat that carried two of every species”, what is heard by the one questioned is ” hey, lets talk about your very core as a person, which i disagree with”. While the question could be posed in good faith, id have better luck walking down main street asking women their bra size and acting incredulous when they tell me to get lost. I think the question is a viable one, and should be asked; in fact my own life improved greatly when I gathered the strength to ask it to myself. Having said that, after examining religion as much as you have, I can’t believe that you don’t know the answer to this question. Its rhetorical at best. Think of all the things listed in your own “why atheists are angry” speech ( big fan by the way) and think of how one simple question could encompass all that.

  6. says

    Brian

    In a world where a sign on the side of a bus that merely mentions the fact that atheists exist is—apparently—controversial, challenging and upsetting to believers, the logical outcome of your argument is that we should shut up and say nothing. Just put up with injustices done in the name of religion because we don’t want to upset anyone.

    Also, turn it around: religious folk, even quite mildly religious folk, seem to have no problem casually telling me that I’m mistaken, or smugly pulling Pascal’s wager out of the hat and asking me what if I’m wrong. Why should they have the socially-accepted right to question, and often ridicule, my word-view, while I pussy-foot around their delicate religious sensibilities?

  7. says

    I think your right, totally right in fact. It is a double standard. I’m currently writing you from afghanistan; meaning I am acutely aware of a society that kills based on this question being asked.

    I guess my point is this: ask away. Please do because it will break the wall eventually by doing so. But lets not act surprised when there is a pushback. You are challenging every fibre of the persons being when you take on religion. They are going to have a visceral reaction. Its not religion, but only an idea, if they dont’ react with their entire person.

    The game of prolonging status quo ( resisting social change ) is often waged by pushing the argument line further than it needs to be. I guess an example would be the prochoice/prolife argument. Lots of prolife people don’t actually agree with the prolife statement that all contraception is bad, a human exists before a nueral groove does instantly at fertilization ….. etc etc. However, they hold ground on this argument for fear of having to make further concessions down the road (polite version of slippery slope arguments world wide). Back to religion. If the religous allow the argument to exist at all, even to engage in the discussion, they know eventually they will have to stand up for their beliefs and most of them know deep down that they are wacky and indefensible. This too contributes to the fire and brimstone approach to the mere suggestion that there is even something to discuss. To them its undebateable.

    Don’t take my comments as agreeing with the religous side, i don’t. However, lets not act as if we didn’t expect this. That the resistance was unexpected. The very concept of debate is to explore further, to test and poke ideas to see if they hold water. This is exactly the opposite of faith.

  8. JeffT says

    I’d like to point out that most religious folk have no problem trashing other people’s religion – just don’t bad-mouth MINE.

  9. karmakin says

    Yup. We’re not even talking about the level of individually challenging someone’s beliefs. I think most of us would say that should be done with a lot of understanding of the individual situation (My general rule is to respond “in kind” the stronger someone expresses their religious beliefs the stronger I reply back).

    We’re actually talking about public statements here. Posters, billboards, blog posts, books, etc. These are things that generally are no different than religious groups do all the time.

    Why are one good and the other not good? That’s the question here. Personally, I’d say that some religious signs are fine and some are not fine and the same about atheistic signs (although to be honest, we tend to be rainbows and puppy dogs, really).

    But the reality is that atheism in and of itself offends people. It shouldn’t, of course, but it does. It’s at a point where even doctrinal differences don’t matter to the religious nearly as much as atheism/secularism. They’re almost obsessed (As a side note. I saw this coming a LONG time ago. The “Christian” sub-culture is the tail that wags the dog..and that tail as long as I’ve seen it is obsessed with mere belief over all other concerns) with it. With us.

    We need a bloody restraining order on it.

  10. Gregory in Seattle says

    An excellent essay. Bookmarked, with plans already emerging on where to link it.

  11. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    But lets not act surprised when there is a pushback.

    Are there atheists who would be surprised by pushback? our entire lives are a deluge of pushback.

  12. karmakin says

    I’m not surprised at the pushback. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that the pushback is often hypocritical.

  13. says

    I’m currently writing you from afghanistan; meaning I am acutely aware of a society that kills based on this question being asked.

    A perfect example of a culture where the question should have been asked more often and more loudly in the past. If people were used to such ideas being questioned, they would never have reached a state where the question seemed important enough to kill over.

  14. says

    I think people’s actual beliefs are pretty much sub-topical at this point. The operative belief is actually a metabelief, ad their God is most likely the Goddess faith.

  15. says

    Greta, I’m so consistently impressed by you. I often wonder why atheist organizations are represented by people who are not one bit like you.

    The thing I like most about your writing; the thing I strive for myself, is that you write for a speaker. You write as someone would say something out loud. You write for someone listening to a speaker. You use pauses so damned effectively.

    I just had to gush a little and wish that I could be more like you. Maybe I will be someday.

  16. TN4th says

    I think there are several reasons, which can be employed individually or in combination.
    1. I don’t wanna grow up. Don’t tell me Santa doesn’t exist. If I accept that Santa doesn’t exist, I might miss out on presents. Nah-nah-nah…I can’t hear you.
    2. It embarrasses hell out of me to be caught out being stupid, so I’ll just put up an unscalable defensive barrier.
    3. I’m a very superstitious dude, and actually worry that bad things will happen to me if I entertain doubts about gods, step on cracks in the sidewalk, open umbrellas indoors, or spill salt.
    4. I can’t risk losing my social support system by stepping away from the religion they use as a litmus test to embrace or ostracize people, so don’t even ask me to go there. It ain’t gonna happen.

  17. says

    The people who don’t think religion should get a free ride are the same people who don’t think anything should get a free ride. Dark matter? String theory? Kin selection? Transubstantiation? Let’s see the evidence! The people who do think religion is off limits are probably not going to be swayed by evidence that it shouldn’t be.

    So, the question isn’t whether people think religion should be untouchable. Obviously, many people do despite having no good reason for thinking this way. The question is whether knowing some people think this way should stop other people from challenging those beliefs. Say it with me: Hell NO!

  18. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    If I accept that Santa doesn’t exist, I might miss out on presents.

    Lol this is awesome. I am *so* stealing this.

  19. says

    Again, I agree with most points, particularily about separating from a social circle. Just want to point out what the original question was, thats all. I happen to share the view, that if we all believed this was the only crack at living we get, we’d probably be a lot more decent to each other as a whole. Sickness would still occur, accidents would still happen but things like Srebrenica or Rwanda or the entire middle east nightmare would not have happened. It would be lovely to be in a world where the pursuit of knowledge was normal, and praying to a cracker that represents a dead jewish carpenter who will save us all in the best version of our body that we ever had, despite our age: that this would be the thing seen as wacky, perverse and prehistoric. But we are not there yet. Not even close. I do believe that the higher road needs to be taken to be seen legitimately. We have to be sure that in our countering of bigotry, we do so with unbigoted speech. And if we want our opinions heard outside our own sphere of influence, we can’t trounce those within our own movement that challenge some of our own approaches and views. Religion shouldnt get a free pass, but it does, and attempting to understand the reasons it does ( which seems the premise of the article itself in the first place) aids us in preparing for it.

  20. says

    I did not read the entire piece so I’m sorry if I go over something already mentioned.

    It’s important to note that “religion” is a huge tent, encompassing many different religions of varying influence in history, society, and politics, and in each of these religions there are adherents subscribing to varying interpretations of their scriptures and varying degrees of devotion. Criticizing the beliefs of, say, a “weekend Buddhist”–that is, a small-time devotee to a religion that has a very small footprint–is kind of mean and petty, especially if she has no interest in debating the topic nor trying to proselytize to you.

    Religion is extremely personal for many people, and as such it is taken as a personal attack when it is criticized. My judgment on this is that if he keeps it to himself, it does little harm to himself and -no harm- to others, then it gets a free ride. It’s simply not worth the effort and the conflict.

  21. DonZilla says

    TN4th said it, but with the Santa Clause: most people are indoctrinated into their religions by their parents when they’re small children. And it takes a maturity most people aren’t capable of, even as adults, to question and possibly even reject their parents. Scary stuff.

    Questioning religion = questioning parents.

    Religion keeps people infantile.

  22. Hanan says

    As before, I agree religion should not get a free ride. Fire away.

    The only thing I disagree with you is your comparison of religion to political [identity] ideas. I don’t think you can compare them at all. Politics of economy or welfare or international affairs is simply not comparable to one’s personal religion, which ultimately is also about ultimate meaning and the purpose to existence. It’s not simply another idea that gets picked up along the way.

  23. Bjarte Foshaug says

    I would argue that appeals to respect for the beliefs of others should be considered a red flag in itself. As I have previously commented in a different context, appeals of this kind are only ever heard when there are no good reasons to appeal to. (Just look for respect for the beliefs of others at a scientific conference). But a belief can hardly become more worthy of respect for being based on bad reasons.

    If a person believes that the bus leaves at 8.30, and you inform him that it leaves at 8.15, he is probably not going to get angry at you for “attacking his beliefs” or demand that you “respect” his belief that the bus leaves at 8.30. If he is interested in catching the bus, a more proper reaction would be to thank you for the information. And so it is with all rational beliefs: If your only goal is to find out what’s objectively true, there is no reason why giving up an unjustified belief for a more accurate view of reality should be seen as a loss. Demanding respect for one’s beliefs or accusing critics of trying to “take away” said beliefs (as if it was a theft) only makes sense in so far and to the extend that the goal is to keep believing whether the beliefs in question are right or wrong. This is practically the definition of wishful thinking.

    When did “respect” become synonymous with infantilziation anyway? As I see it, the only way to show respect for people – as opposed to their beliefs – is by treating them as rational, mature, responsible adults. This is not what you are doing by only telling them what you think they want to hear or won’t cause them any cognitive dissonance. Indeed, I would argue that the only way to treat others respectfully is to take their views seriously and appeal to their intelligence. This is exactly what you are doing by giving them your honestly held reasons for rejecting their beliefs. For the same reason I would argue that the so-called “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Harris – who are most often accused of rudeness – are in fact being a lot more respectful than the “accomodationists” who just assume a priori that believers cannot be expected to be responsive to logic.

    I agree with Sam Harris that what we need most are new rules of discourse that don’t grant religious beliefs any special privileges a priori. By playing the offense card at every opportunity, accomodationists keep reaffirming and giving legitimacy to the very rules of discourse that need to be changed (i.e. the “spell” that needs to be broken in Dennett’s language).

    Finally, when apologists for religion – whether they are believers in God or believers in belief – criticize atheists for their bad form (an accusation that should sound infinitely hollow to everyone after “slavery-gate”), the underlying assumption seems to be that the views of atheists would not be offensive to believers if they would only adopt a different tone. As Greta has pointed out, if atheists don’t want to cause offense, there is really just one option available to them: don’t exist! Every step that humanity has ever taken in the right direction has been offensive to someone’s deeply held beliefs. I say so much the worse for deeply held beliefs.

  24. says

    Candide @#5:
    If I may use the “religion is a crutch” metaphor for a bit, the person you describe needs the crutch of religion to get through the day, so taking away her beliefs might fall into the same category as kicking someone’s crutches out from under them. What we should be doing, if I may stretch the metaphor a bit more, is to teach people to walk without crutches in the first place.

    For most people, it’s not too late to learn to live without the false comfort afforded by religion. At the very least, we can help remove some of the worst justifications for religion by criticizing them openly and frankly.

  25. robinwoodsong says

    As a person who spent many years as a Christian, I approach deconversion conversations with a lot of trepidation. Have you ever heard the stories folks tell of their years before they ‘found the Lord?’ They are horrible.

    In general, converted Christians don’t function well without an external authority to guide relationships and moral questions. That is why they are Christians in the first place. A lifetime of bad decisions pile up until their lives are a living hell. Then they turn over their decision making process to the Lord (in reality – the peer pressure of other Christians in their church).

    This sometimes allows them to be involved in enough of a caring community to become a somewhat decent human being.

    Not always, of course and this doesn’t apply to folks raised Christian, although I have heard some fairly repugnant stories from them too from the dark days of their backsliding.

    If someone asks, of course I will point out the difficulties of their beliefs. As I will if someone evangelizes me. But I don’t go after some poor sod who is just living their life as best they can.

    “Religion is the opium of the people” is to me not a rail against religion but an acknowledgement of the relief that irrational beliefs can bring to people trying to make sense out of a sometimes painful and baffling life.

    Not all of us are able to live with ambiguity. How many Christians have I heard say, “If god doesn’t exist why don’t you go out and rape and kill a lot of people?” which always causes me to shudder.

    Deep down, behind the facade of Christian manners, that is what they are struggling with and I don’t want to even put the smallest crack in that facade.

  26. Wowbagger, Vile Demagogue says

    From an outsider’s perspective: I suspect it’s like that in the USA because it’s so intricately tied to cultural identity; in some ways to question why someone is religious is to ask them ‘what’s so great about being American?’

    Once you start mixing those two up it gets a lot more complicated.

    It’s not limited to Americans, of course; I was once discussing this sort of thing with a Greek-Australian, who pretty much said that he wasn’t a Christian because he strongly believed in any of it (since he also admits to believing in pre-Christian Greek mythology, however that workds); he was a (Greek Orthodox) Christian because that’s what Greeks were.

  27. says

    Why should religion get a free ride? The short answer is, it shouldn’t. Why DOES religion get a free ride? Because people have been told since the time they were tiny children that it does. In fact, many people are brought up with the rule that IN ORDER TO BE GOOD PEOPLE, they have to believe unquestioningly.

    I increasingly suspect that it is a person’s self-value that prevents them from questioning their religion too closely. When it is BELIEF, and nothing else, that really matters in qualifying one’s self as “good person,” that belief gets padded in all kinds of protection. You’re not just calling into question their beliefs about the nature of the universe, you’re calling into question their beliefs about the nature of their very selves. Are they good people or not? Because good Christians/Muslims/Jews/whatevers don’t question.

    So in making them question, you’re summoning up an ass-load of guilt and shame. Pile on top of that their confusion and frustration at not being able to respond intelligently to the debate, and it’s a guaranteed recipe to bring up this response: “You’re not respecting my beliefs, you can’t question me about this, it’s against the rules.”

    So why should religion get a free ride? Because it makes people uncomfortable to consider that their faith is fragile, and at the mercy of reason, not inner fortitude (however misplaced.) This, of course, is not a good enough reason.

  28. says

    Jules

    Bang on. Thats it in a nutshell. The question asked is not the question heard. You ask a question about a belief system, they hear a question challenging every little thing about themselves, particularily the ones they know will sound funny and they don’t have a better response for. People dont like to look stupid.

  29. Bruce Gorton says

    @ candide

    Why it is always the dear old widow, or the dear old grandmother? Do we really consider women less capable of handling basic honesty than men?

    Okay, petty peeve aside…

    False hope is worse than no hope. We can adjust when there is no hope, and we can make plans that make things better but false hope offers no such solution.

    The poor person who believes he will recieve a great reward after death because she or he did not rebel, remains poor and under the heel of those who made him or her poor.

    This is amply demonstrated by the entire continent of Africa, where we see highly pious people obeying their leaders.

    Remember, Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

    Matthew 6.26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

    There is a famouse illustration for that verse:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b8/Kevin-Carter-Child-Vulture-Sudan.jpg

    And no, that is not meant to be funny. That is the power of the false comfort of religion, of false hope.

    If the dear old widow were to accept the death of her spouse, then she could seek a meaningful relationship with someone who is actually alive, gaining companionship with someone who is actually there.

    Sure she may not like having her false hope ripped away from her, but then the same could be said about an addict and his crack.

  30. Rich Scott says

    I think Brain is exactly right about religion being more personally charged than politics. As an ex-Christian, I can testify that the question of religion releases a lot of positively primal feelings that transcend those other issues. The psychologist Dorothy Rowe argues that the question of being good/bad, i.e. accepted/rejected, lies at the heart of much of our socialization when we’re young, and beliefs about God go right to the heart of that.

    This is not a good enough reason not to challenge people, and not to talk about it, but this isn’t to say that there aren’t some challenges here that seriously need to be considered.

    An example that really brought this across to me, was going to an event with some Christian friends as an athiest. I ended up getting into a debate with a bloke there about Christianity, where I very quickly knocked down his arguments in short order. He looked really shaken, and then he just said ‘But if there’s no God, then our daughter isn’t in heaven.’

    Now when you just write it like that, this seems really annoying and manipulative – but the actual moment itself was very raw. He really looked like he was going to cry.

    The incident actually made me a bit angry at the time – I think there is a legitimate complaint to be made about someone dragging their dead daughter into an argument about God’s existence, about using guilt as a weapon, never mind the patent fallacy. But at the same time, it illustrates what religion is defending in some people’s hearts. My feeling was, it was completely right of me to stop the conversation at that moment, which I did. The fallout would have been GRIM if I had tried to call bullshit on that then and there.

    It would, of course, be totally wrong to therefore stop talking about it at all, or believe that a guy like that couldn’t benefit, on his own time and on his own terms, encountering more reasoned and confidently put athiest thought – even stuff challenging the beliefs he thinks he needs to honour his daughter.

    So, Bruce – not just old widows and grandmothers here. This guy was actually a really gregarious, handsome, and ‘masculine’ type, if we want to conjure up another archetype.

  31. jackrawlinson says

    Religion satisfies a certain deep emotional need in a certain type of person. That need is borne of fear and weakness. Look at those worshippers: kneeling to their gods; abasing themselves; singing songs of praise; indulging in ritualistic behaviour; praying for help, for intercession in their problems and their worries. These people find reality frightening, and they need help with that. They are clinging to their belief because they are fearful, needy people and they have found something that comforts their fears. It is their security blanket.

    And we are trying to tear it away. So they cry. Loudly. And if they can, they try to set up social and even legal restrictions to prevent the mean atheist trying to do it again. The attempts to ring-fence religion against attack and criticism are because of the weakness and fear of the believers.

  32. Bruce Gorton says

    @Rich Scott

    Stick around arguments where that tactic is used enough, and you will see what I mean when I talk about the gender bias.

    Anyway I agree you were right to end that argument, but I also agree with what you say here:

    It would, of course, be totally wrong to therefore stop talking about it at all, or believe that a guy like that couldn’t benefit, on his own time and on his own terms, encountering more reasoned and confidently put athiest thought – even stuff challenging the beliefs he thinks he needs to honour his daughter.

  33. says

    Nice. Like others it’s what I wish I could write.
    A:
    I think the intensity at which one will defend nonsense is in direct relation to how fearful they are of realizing they are merely a lucky mammal.
    B:
    Thats what nuts do.

  34. says

    While not disputing the fact that there are great swathes of the human population that fervently believe and often loudly proclaim that their religion should get what you call a “free ride” I’d have to dispute a claim that they have actually enjoyed that “free ride” in any industrialised country. (that I can think of)
    Wickepedia: “Secularism draws its intellectual roots from Greek and Roman philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius and Epicurus; medieval Muslim polymaths such as Ibn Rushd; Enlightenment thinkers such as Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine; and more recent freethinkers, agnostics, and atheists such as Robert Ingersoll and Bertrand Russell.”
    This long tradition of freethought and secularism (which I’m not suggesting hasn’t been bloody and violent at times and not complete in places) has had profound effects around the world. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Importance_of_religion_by_country

    Your original question,”Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?” can be answered with a simple, it isn’t.
    I’ve had lots of ideas that have been completely free of any attempts to persuade me out of them. Just off the top of my head:
    .It’s good to be nice to my dog.
    .I’m better off not living alone in a cupboard.
    .Pants are considered polite when i do my weekly shopping.
    .I’ve also lived my life completely free from anyone trying to change my opinion that rape and pedophilia are horrible crimes.

    I haven’t read your other articles yet so I really don’t know what sort of atheist you are. Do you try to persuade religious people to change their opinions of violent, religious based confrontation? Female genital mutilation? Non secularism? Scientific illiteracy? Intolerance? Or are you the sort of essentialist atheist that proclaims that all religion is evil, irrational, unnecessary and ludicrous? I’m not an expert but the latter seems to be a very common view among atheists and it always makes me laugh. I’ve never encountered an evangelical atheist that had paused long enough to consider that although magical, bipolar, sky daddies and mummies may seem completely illogical and irrational they have certainly been good enough for evolution and natural selection over a very long time.

    So are you talking about changing peoples minds about the bad aspects of their religion? Or are you trying to talk them out of the entire, near universal, human tendency to seek and find pleasure in spiritual fullfillment and transcendence that commonly manifests as a sincere friendship with a magical sky daddy? You’re not trying to talk people out of the very thing that has provided succor to billions of people, often in their darkest hours, over countless millenia are you? Because if you are then the best reason to give religion a free pass is that you’re pushing shit up hill sister. Good luck raging against primal instinct.

  35. KG says

    no soap was harmed,

    I can’t help noticing the complete lack of any evidence for your claims that the prevalence of religion has anything to do with natural selection, or that even if it has, we should for that reason accept it as inevitable – after all, rabies, smallpox, polio and guinea worm are (or in the case of smallpox, were) products of evolution and natural selection. The claim that religiosity is a “primal instinct” just looks silly once you notice the decay of religion in much of Europe and in Japan. But then, taking note of evidence clearly isn’t your bag.

  36. says

    no soap was harmed

    I’m rather underwhelmed* by your list of famous freethinkers. What a few scholars and philosophers were able to do and say, is no real indication of what the general population thought and said; any more than the vague almost-deist’s god espoused by many modern theologians, which bears no relation to the beliefs of most believers-on-the-street.

    *I wonder if ‘to whelm’ was ever a commonly used verb…

  37. says

    G’day KG,
    Sorry about the lack of evidence. Perhaps you could Google “Evolutionary origins of religion?” I find the evidence very compelling.
    Alternatively I suppose a “near universal tendency to seek and find pleasure in spiritual fullfillment and trancendence…” may not have a evolutionary basis in the human animal. Perhaps it popped into existence by magic?

  38. John Morales says

    No soap:

    Your original question,”Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?” can be answered with a simple, it isn’t.

    It isn’t, but that was not the question to which you ostensibly responded — ‘should’ is not synonymous to ‘is’.

    More to the point, perhaps you should read in bigger chunks than a single sentence, when the ideas being expressed are longer than that.

    The actual full contention is:
    “Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?

    We try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We try to persuade people that their ideas about science, politics, philosophy, art, medicine, and more, are wrong: that they’re harmful, ridiculous, repulsive, or simply mistaken. But when it comes to religion, trying to persuade people out of their ideas is somehow seen as horribly rude at best, invasive and bigoted and intolerant at worst. Why? Why should religion be the exception?

    I’ve helpfully emphasised the basis for the (rhetorical) question, so that you can perhaps address Greta’s actual contention, rather than to a claim she did not make.

  39. says

    G’day Daz I disagree.

    I’d feign surprise but, frankly, I can’t be bothered.

    So, why should religion be given an easy ride?

  40. KG says

    No soap was harmed,

    Perhaps you could Google “Evolutionary origins of religion?” I find the evidence very compelling.

    I’m aware of the claims; I find them inconclusive as to whether religiosity has actually been selected for. It may, for example, be a by-product of human propensities for story-telling, and for children believing what adults tell them.
    In any case, you do not even try to meet my accompanying point: even if something is the result of natural selection, that does not imply that it is unchangeable, or that we should not try to change it.

    Alternatively I suppose a “near universal tendency to seek and find pleasure in spiritual fullfillment and trancendence…” may not have a evolutionary basis in the human animal. Perhaps it popped into existence by magic?

    1) As I showed, religiosity (I don’t use your psychobabble terms because they are vague enough to include many things outside religion) is not “near universal”.
    2) Of course religion has an evolutionary basis, because anything human beings do has. Atheism therefore also has an evolutionary basis, as does “evangelical” atheism. So by your own logic, it’s pointless for you to argue against them, isn’t it?

  41. says

    G’day John,
    I wasn’t adressing “should” I was adressing the operative words “alone and “all”.
    Perhaps you should have read my response in bigger chunks than the the word isn’t.

  42. says

    KG

    The instance and prevalence of religiosity, which I believe stems from a instinctive thirst for spiritual fullfillment, is so common and prevalent over thousands of different cultures over hundreds of thousands of years that I believe the words “near universal” are appropriate.
    I dont believe in a single, essentialist definition of the word atheist or a single set of attributes of atheists, which is why,if you read my original comment, you will clearly see I don’t argue against atheism unmitigatedly.
    If on the other hand I percieve evangelical atheism to be doing harm of course it’s not pointless to speak out against it.
    Evangelical atheism good evangelical religion bad?
    Love the irony : )

  43. says

    Daz

    Religion isn’t given a free ride. Taking the piss out of it is a long and proud tradition in virtually every industrialised country in the world and that tradition has reaped enormous benifits for the countries that have participated.

  44. says

    No soap

    The question isn’t “Why does religion get a free ride?” And although I’d contend that it gets an easier ride than you seem to think it does, that’s not the discussion.

    Many religious people proclaim, loudly and often, to the point of painting themselves as being persecuted when their ideas are questioned, that they should get a free ride. To some extent it works, too. A level of questioning that’s deemed perfectly polite when discussing, say, politics, is deemed rude and intrusive when applied to religion.

    The question is, why should they get the level of deference they demand? Also, why is it that they, to some extent, get that deference?

  45. KG says

    The instance and prevalence of religiosity, which I I believe stems from a instinctive thirst for spiritual fullfillment

    I know you believe that: you might be right, but there just isn’t the edvidence to support your belief.

    is so common and prevalent over thousands of different cultures over hundreds of thousands of years that I believe the words “near universal” are appropriate.

    The fact that you think you know what people believed hundreds of thousands of years ago is risible.

    Evangelical atheism good evangelical religion bad?
    Love the irony : ) – No soap was harmed

    Only ironic to those who see no difference between truth and falsehood. I guess that’s you.

  46. says

    Daz,

    I can only respond to your questions personally and of course thats statistically irrelevant.You’ve made an important distiction. Where religion is harmful of course it shouldn’t get a free ride. It doesnt get a free ride in the eonomically developed countries of the world? Are you American? I know that life for atheists in America can be made particularly difficult and can manifests as a kind of seige mentality. You gotta take my word for it that irreligion in Australia is loud and proud. A long tradition that is only being compounded. Our 30 to 15 year olds are the most irreligious in the developed world. Our Prime minister is an unmarried atheist. All Australians benifit from the thousands of people like Greta that questioned the dominance that religion had held in the past over the country.

    But your question why should religious people get the deference they demand concerning there religious beliefs?
    I told you I could only answer personally so here goes.
    When I was eleven my best friend was a christian. I remember one day he was telling me that he was friends with Jesus and I started to tell him about dinosaurs and the sheer retardedness of some of the stories in the bible and the impossibillity that Jesus was Gods son. He answered me simply with the look on his face. “Greg you are hurting me it said.”
    Why would I hurt my friend? What did his friendship with Jesus matter? He was an awesome kid and grew up to be an awesome bloke in a country with a strong secular tradition, where religion basically seems to exist as form of community that does a lot of honourable, charitable work. He never forced his belief on me. In fact in 38 years i have never been offensively proselytized to by anyone. Whats the harm?
    It’s got to be a matter of scale doesn’t it?
    If a discussion of politics, science, art ect isnt going to offend anyone why should we insist on our right to deeply hurt people with our non belief?

  47. says

    No soap.

    Nope, I’m British, and yes, we have much more liberty to talk about such things than many in the US. Even here, though, questioning religion is seen as, well, just not done.

    Concrete example: Would the circumcision of children for non-medical purposes be excused on any other grounds but religion? Yet suggesting to parents that they maybe shouldn’t mutilate their children is treated as intruding on their sensitive religious toes.

    Of course it’s a matter of scale. No one’s suggesting that we bash on doors and scream at people that they’re deluded fuckwits. That’s a strawman invented by people who don’t like any confrontation.

  48. says

    And if anyone can tell me how it’s possible to intrude on someone’s toes, I’d be very grateful…

  49. says

    Daz

    I’m circumcised and it was done because back then it was tradition, both my parents are atheists, it had nothing to do with religion.
    Some atheists, not the majority, are rude weirdos with no sensitivity and I’m afraid that at least some (metaphorical) bashing on doors and screaming does get done.

  50. christophburschka says

    have been compared to Stalin and Glenn Beck

    That’s disgusting! (Oh, and being compared to Stalin sucks too.)

  51. KG says

    I’m afraid that at least some (metaphorical) bashing on doors and screaming does get done. – No soap was harmed

    Translation: no actual bashing on doors and screaming is done.

  52. says

    At the risk of veering off-topic:

    I’m circumcised and it was done because back then it was tradition

    Tradition is as bad a reason as religion for doing something immoral. I’d go further and suggest that conservative religion is as concerned with tradition as it is with allegedly spiritual matters—if not more concerned, with the spiritual being used as a rationalisation for the traditional.

    Anyway, care to make a guess where that tradition came from originally?

    </OT>

  53. says

    Daz

    Fair bit of screaming

    Sorry Daz that was meaant for KG

    It’s okay, I’ll answer anyway.

    What is your measure of what constitutes screaming? If applied to a reaction to statements about religious opinion and about political opinion, where would the question “Do you have evidence to support that?” fall on your scale?

  54. says

    Daz,

    I can only answer with personal anicdotal evidence because i cant be bothered looking up confrontations btween atheists and christians on the web.
    My parents were both raised as jehovas witnesses and much of my extended family is still devoutly religous.
    I’ve seen some nasty shit between the devout and the atheist members of my family.
    I’ve seen kids bullied and beaten at school for being “different” ostensibly and because of their religion specifically.

  55. says

    No soap

    “Do you have supporting evidence?” or variants thereof, is the first question I’ve seen/heard from atheists in most debates I’ve witnessed or taken part in between atheists and religious folk. You may not consider it screaming, but many religious people most certainly do. Asking them to prove an assertion? That’s almost heresy! It may get vitriolic later (usually in my experience, because religious apologists will squirm, evade the question, and outright lie), but it almost always starts with a request for evidence.

    Just how fucking polite do we have to be, before we’re considered not to be screaming?

  56. KG says

    Whats the harm? – No soap was harmed

    By an odd coincidence, PZ Myers has just posted on David Sloan Wilson’s latest work on religion. I quote:

    I have one word for David Sloan Wilson’s benign view of religion, for his argument that it is a prosocial phenomenon. It represents a huge pile of evidence for our second agenda item that he seems to ignore. That word is…

    WOMEN.

    Whenever I hear that tripe about the beneficial effects of religion on human cultural evolution, it’s useful to note that the world’s dominant faiths all hardcode directly into their core beliefs the idea that women are unclean, inferior, weak, and responsible for the failings of mankind…that even their omnipotent, all-loving god regards women as lesser creatures not fit to be intermediaries with him, and that their cosmic fate is to be subservient slaves to men, just as men are to be subservient slaves to capital-H Him.

    David Sloan Wilson can argue all he wants that religion helped promote group survival in our evolutionary history, or that his group selectionist models somehow explain its origins, but it doesn’t matter. Here and now, everywhere, those with eyes to see can see for themselves that religion has for thousands of years perpetuated the oppression of half our species. Half of the great minds our peoples have produced have lived and died unknown and forgotten, their educations neglected, their lives spent doing laundry and other menial tasks for men — their merits unrecognized and buried under lies promulgated by religion, in cultures soaked in the destructive myths of faith which codify misogyny and give it a godly blessing.

  57. says

    Daz

    You’re asking the wrong bloke. As I’ve said to you, I’ve simply never had a problem getting along with any religious crew I’ve ever met. If they aren’t advocating things that offend me or I judge to be harmful what do I care if they have evidence to support their beliefs? I don’t have evidence that proves my dog is awesome. I just “know” it. I assume that’s how most religous people feel.
    You could try asking God?

  58. KG says

    No soap was harmed,

    If you come from a JW background, you must be aware that the leaders of that sect explicitly tell its members that they must break off contact with “apostates”: the practice of “shunning”. How on earth can you then ask a damn-fool question like “Where’s the harm?”?

  59. says

    KG

    Well KG you’ve convinced me. There isn’t a woman in the world that loves her God. Nor has there ever been.No woman in the world has ever experienced anything positive from her religion.
    Thankyou for helping me to see the light.
    Hallelujah

  60. says

    If they aren’t advocating things that offend me or I judge to be harmful what do I care if they have evidence to support their beliefs?

    Indeed, if they’re liberal enough in their religion that they don’t do or advocate things that are harmful or immoral, then they’ll be pretty damn low on the list of people any of us “shouty” atheists will be “shouting” at.

    If they do advocate or practice harmful things, then yes, they will get questioned as to whether they can show any evidence that such harm is justified. If they can’t justify those actions, then they will get shouted at, and possibly even insulted.

    If you have a problem with the above, I’d really like to see your evidence in support of it being a bad idea.

  61. says

    KG

    Went and visited my uncle Martin and my cousin who are JW ‘s about 3 weeks ago with my dad.
    Dad’s an atheist, I’m an agnostic atheist.
    Everything was cool.
    Dad’s going to buy Uncle Martins caravan.

  62. KG says

    No soap was harmed,

    I didn’t say all JWs obey the teaching, did I? I’m well aware that they don’t. But many do – you won’t find it at all hard to find online stories from ex-JWs who have been shunnedif you can be bothered to look – and the leaders certainly intend that they should. So I repeat – how can you ask a damn-fool question like “Where’s the harm?”?

  63. says

    KG

    Social cohesion certainly isn’t the only evolutionary advantage of homogenous or uniform religous belief.
    One group of warriors that has no fear of death (because they believe in paradise after death) and shares a fervant belief that god is on their side and wants them to smite their enemies has a clear military advantage over a rival group that shares no such beliefs.Is the inherent inclination of people to subjegate themselves to a higher authority partially instinctive? I think so. As far as I’m aware there is no seargent anywhere in the world that gives an order to march and then qualifies that order with a suggestion that his troops think as rationally as they can about that order and to get back to him in their own time.

  64. says

    KG

    Actually a lot of my parents JW friends didn’t go to their wedding and shunned them after it. I think mum was a bit hurt at the time but it gave her a valuable lesson into who her real friends were eh?She made other friends. Friends come and go.
    I’m pretty cool with where’s the harm in this case.
    Jw’s have some pretty stupid shit going on though. If I perssonally knew a JW that denied their child a blood transfusion I would be furious and they’d cop it.It’s nver happened though so it’s never been an issue.
    But where does this tendency you’ve got to whittle the world down into neat little packages? Black and white good and bad?
    Life isn’t like that. It’s naive to assume it is

  65. julian says

    Shout away dude i believe in free speech.

    But not in thinking or dealing with issues.

    Someone presents the obvious oppression religion has committed against women (particularly the Abrahamic religions) and you dismiss it in its entirety. No thought given no argument presented, just the jeering tone of someone who refuses to confront those issues.

    Repulsive little things like you are why the religious often get away with committing the atrocities they do.

    It’s nver happened though so it’s never been an issue.

    Please forgive those of us who try to dissuade people from those destructive and harmful ideas before they happen. We’re so evil and intolerant and not nice.

  66. julian says

    A good example of naivety is assuming a person’s beliefs won’t impact their decision making at little things like, you know, elections, voting, how they raise children…

  67. KG says

    Is the inherent inclination of people to subjegate themselves to a higher authority partially instinctive? I think so. – No soap was harmed

    Why should I care what you think, unless you can give me a good reason why you think so? What makes you think people have that “inherent inclination” anyway? You won’t find much evidence of it in many foraging societies: see for example the work of Christopher Boehm, and other ethnological studies of such cultures as the San, some of the Shoshone, and the Mbuti.

  68. KG says

    As far as I’m aware there is no seargent anywhere in the world that gives an order to march and then qualifies that order with a suggestion that his troops think as rationally as they can about that order and to get back to him in their own time. – No soap was harmed

    Really, you’re not aware of very much. When people are inducted into the ranks of an army, they spend their first months having as much as possible of their independence of thought and personal autonomy crushed. That would scarcely be necessary if that “inherent inclination” was as strong as all that.

    I think mum was a bit hurt at the time but it gave her a valuable lesson into who her real friends were eh?She made other friends. Friends come and go.

    Well, I should imagine yours don’t last long.

    If I perssonally knew a JW that denied their child a blood transfusion I would be furious and they’d cop it.It’s nver happened though so it’s never been an issue.

    Right: as long as it doesn’t happen right in front of you, you couldn’t care less.

  69. says

    G’day Julian,

    I didn’t dismiss it in it’s entirety. I did have a laugh at a ridiculous simplification of a human construct.
    In my opinion religion is neither fundementally good or fundementally bad but fundementally full of the potential for both.
    Incidentally bloke I’m also having a good laugh at you.
    Resorting to personal insults on the internet because you’ve read an opinion different to yours?
    How avant garde :)
    You must be very tough!
    Well done.

  70. says

    KG

    Why the acromony?You’re such a fundementalist atheist that you cant deal with the slightest difference of opinion to your own?
    You don’t see any similiarities to your own fundementalism and the sort that you rage against?Your sense ofirony has been surgically removed?
    If soldiers didn’t have an inclination towards the subjegation of ther own will to a higher authority I would imagine that indoctrination wouldn’t be possibe at all. Never mind in a few short months. It doesn’t take that long actually.

  71. julian says

    I did have a laugh at a ridiculous simplification of a human construct.

    Callous thing that you are, I realize you don’t care two licks about the impact religion has had or continues to have on people. But you could at least acknowledged the role it’s played (and continues to play) in the oppression of people.

    You must be very tough!

    Much tougher than you? Obviously. I’m actually willing to deal with the crap out there. In stark contrast to you who keeps pretending it isn’t there and that the people trying to clean up the mess are the ones in the wrong.

  72. says

    KG

    Why do I believe people have a natural inclination to subjegate their will to a higher authority?
    Um
    Isn’t there a super abundance of Kings, Cheiftans, Conquerers and Gods populating human history?
    It’s getting very late here I hope you have a nice day.

  73. julian says

    You don’t see any similiarities to your own fundementalism and the sort that you rage against?

    KG has so much in common with the Taliban and Christians who target abortion providers. KG oughtta send them a gift basket.

    If soldiers didn’t have an inclination towards the subjegation of ther own will to a higher authority I would imagine that indoctrination wouldn’t be possibe at all.

    You don’t know anything about the military do you?

  74. julian says

    Another believer in those getting short changed, oppressed or discriminated against should do so with a smile on their face. You really are something, no soap.

  75. julian says

    Isn’t there a super abundance of Kings, Cheiftans, Conquerers and Gods populating human history?

    This is a lousy argument. There are just as many revolutionaries, heretics and anarchists littering history. Hell, the last 200 years has been defined in the West by a move away from the Divine Right of Kings, away from despots, and towards government that governs through the consent and will of those governed.

  76. says

    Julian

    you’re raging against a person that you’ve never met and has demonstrated nothing on this page but a willingness to be tolerant.
    You know nothing about my opinion of the various evils of religion and are determined not to see the blindinly obvious good.Because my opinion differs to yours you’re desperate to attribute all sorts of dastardly, made up atrributes to my personality that only exist in your own head.
    It’s infantile bloke.

  77. says

    If I perssonally knew a JW that denied their child a blood transfusion I would be furious and they’d cop it.It’s nver happened though so it’s never been an issue.

    Did you read what you said before hitting Submit?

    I try my best in debates like this to remember that a person’s words on the narrow subject under discussion might not reflect their whole personality, but Jesus. Fucking . Christ. You typed that. And you sent it out for the world to read.

    Horrified. That’s the word I want.

  78. julian says

    I’m not raging. This how I talk normally, believe it or not. And your personality is shining through from your unwillingness to deal with issues unless they directly impact you (“It’s nver happened though so it’s never been an issue.”) to your eagerness to equate loud protest and anger with intolerance and the worst religion has to offer (“You don’t see any similiarities to your own fundementalism and the sort that you rage against?”) to your sloppy thinking on human motivation and want (“Isn’t there a super abundance of Kings, Cheiftans, Conquerers and Gods populating human history?”)

  79. opposablethumbs says

    It is amusing that no soap was harmed considers the posts of those who disagree with it here to be “acrimonious”. Actually that’s pretty hilarious.
    .
    It is less amusing that nswh couldn’t give a toss about any harm done that doesn’t directly affect it. Nobody has hacked bits off me or my immediate family in childhood; nobody has spat on us or assaulted us for not complying with their dress code – nswh seems to think that I should therefore cease to care about all those people who have been mutilated, assaulted or murdered for religious reasons.
    .
    It may very well be that the issues raised in the OP are less problematic in Australia than in many other parts of the world – wonderful! But Australia isn’t the whole world. Just because the body isn’t on your doorstep doesn’t mean you should ignore it; doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about preventing the next mutilation, the next killing.
    .
    Or the next assault. This one was on your doorstep – http://www.news.com.au/national/are-aussies-too-biased-to-try-this-muslim-man/story-e6frfkvr-1226350436211
    .
    But where’s the harm, eh, it wasn’t your sister.

  80. pensnest says

    No soap was harmed @ #67 said:

    Well KG you’ve convinced me. There isn’t a woman in the world that loves her God. Nor has there ever been.No woman in the world has ever experienced anything positive from her religion.
Thankyou for helping me to see the light.


    Yes, women in their millions have been convinced that their God loves them, wants them to stay subjugated and do as they are told, that they are inferior to men, etc. And perhaps they have even derived comfort from knowing that they have their place in the grand scheme of things, and that their devotion will be rewarded when they die. And respectability, and a heartwarming consciousness of good deeds well done, etc etc.

    Trouble is, if the God they believe in so fervently doesn’t exist, it means they have put up with an abominable amount of bullshit for nothing, doesn’t it?

  81. lcaution says

    In the public square, you are absolutely correct. Religion should not get a free ride, especially when it is the “faithful” who are asserting their right to not only be in the public square but to control, on the basis of their faith, what goes on in the public square.

    In the private sphere, however, I’m with robinwoodsong (26) and No soap was harmed (50).

    If somebody tries to convert me, I politely tell them I am not interested. If they desist, I leave it at that. If they don’t, I say that I am willing to listen if they are willing to hear me out on why they are wrong. And I will use all the arguments at my disposal. So far, I’ve only been evangelized a couple of times. Nobody has taken me up on a “discussion”.

    The only reason I know that some of the people and friends I associate with are religious is by way of certain words or phrases that get dropped from time to time. They are not crazies. They do not take their holy books literally. They believe in evolution and that the universe is about 13 billion years old. They have no desire to convert anybody.

    From my perspective, being the aggressor, i.e., simply opening up a conversation at the slightest opportunity to question a person’s faith would be the equivalent of kicking the crutches out from under the arms of a person with a broken leg: needlessly cruel.

    Life is hard. If you take Prozac to get through it, I’m not going to tell you that “depression is all in your mind. Just get out of bed and do what you have to do.” If you want to get drunk as a skunk, smoke a couple of joints, or take a valium or two because the love of your life just left you, I’m not going to tell you to “stop being a ninny. The love of your life was an idiot and good riddance.” Well, I probably would but I wouldn’t stop you from using your crutch of choice – as long as you are safe at home.

    Religion as a crutch? So what? Life is hard. Who am I, out of some sense of intellectual superiority, to deprive somebody of a crutch that is not hurting me and is obviously helping them. Now, if said person swings the crutch at my head, well, that’s a different story.

  82. Liberated says

    Great post!

    In my opinion religion gets a pass from ridicule in most social environments because it’s based on faith- or to put it another way- no evidence at all. Science, politics, art, economics, what side of the bread tastes better with butter on it all have SOME way of showing evidence. So defending an “absolute truth” claim with zero evidence requires a few tricks. Diversion by feelings getting hurt seems to be on the list.

  83. says

    Julian

    Ok your last post didn’t really make a lot of sense.
    Once again though, you claimed a secret knowledge of my motivations and actions.
    Let me get this straight dude.
    Not only are you an abusively devout,fundementalist,evangelical atheist that practices hate speech against another on the basis of his tolerance, you also claim omniscience?
    If thats not fuckin hilarious I just don’t know what is : )

  84. says

    Opposable thumbs

    Actually I considered it acrimonious to be called a damn fool, a coward, repulsive little thing, amognst otheres.Obviously I accept that there’s a lot of internet commandos that can’t argue without acromony. It’s funny really. I actually enjoy being disagreed with it makes me think.
    That link you sent me is not on my doorstep it’s 4000km away and what of it? A bloke has assaulted his sister in law he’s been caught and he’ll go to jail. What am I supposed to do about it? Accept that one assault outweighs all the charity done by various churches and religious groups in this country?
    I have never once claimed that a hell of a lot of crime isn’t done in the name of religion. I have claimed that a lot of good is done in the name of religion. Do you know how I vote or what money I donate to the victims of religous violence?
    No of course you don’t. Despite your claims you’re not omniscient.
    You called me “it” twice in your comment. So if you disagree with me I’m not even human?
    Incredible.

  85. opposablethumbs says

    No, silly, you’re “it” because I don’t presume to determine whether you’re “he” or “she”. I incline to the opinion that you’re a bloke, but I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. Some people prefer “xe” or “hir”.

    It’s in your country, cupcake. That’s as near to your doorstep as makes no damn difference in a global context.

    You’ve made it absolutely clear in your own writing that you couldn’t give a toss about what happens to anyone who isn’t you or your immediate circle.

  86. says

    Opposable thumbs

    Sorry silly but you’re wrong.
    I’ve donated money to an Afghan womens charity every month since 2005. I donate money to the salvation army and the samaritans every year when they come to the door.I’ve also donated my time as a bricklayer to build schools for aboriginal children in the bush.
    You may be desperate to attribute nothing but negative aspects to my personality and actions but that reflects your own bigotry and has nothing to do with the facts.
    And I repeat my question what am I supposed to do about this Muslim man that has assaulted his sister in law? Define the exception as the rule? Ignore the millions of religious people in this country that have never bashed anyone? Ignore the hundreds of assaults in this country committed this year by nonreligous people for a cleaner clearer picture?This guy has been caught and will go to jail. What can I contribute apart from my disgust that a man has committed an act of violence towards a women for a purile religious reason?It wont’ protect him in this country from jail.
    How ’bout I try to make a deal with the people here that seem so outraged that I practice tolerance towards people that are different to me. I’ll keep getting along with people and you guys can be as “rightously” hate filled as you like.
    Deal?

  87. julian says

    And I repeat my question what am I supposed to do about this Muslim man that has assaulted his sister in law?

    I dunno but not pretending such attacks are rare and aren’t motivated by religion, supported by religion and largely condoned by this man’s religion is a great place to start. So would caring about the things that go on in your backyard.

    I’ll keep getting along with people and you guys can be as “rightously” hate filled as you like.

    No worries. I have no plans to stop protesting the abuses committed in the name of religion and by the religious whatever your objections. Nor do I plan to let dangerous ideas and beliefs (like allowing someone to die because blood transfusions are evil) enjoy the critique free existence you want them to.

  88. says

    Julian

    You’re still at the omniscience I’m afraid.
    I don’t believe that denying blood transfusions to children deserves a critique free existence and I never said it should.
    In Australia they’re often given to JW children by court order and that’s the way it should be.
    All I said was that I have never actively picked a fight with a Jehovas witness over their hypothetical decision, that they might make one day, maybe, to deny their child a blood transfusion.

    Curious to know how you “protest”?
    It doesn’t consist of sitting in safety behind your computer screen being omniscient and abusive towards people on the internet that have the slightest difference of opinion to you does it?

  89. Daniel Schealler says

    @Daz #38

    *I wonder if ‘to whelm’ was ever a commonly used verb…

    Only in Europe.

    ^_^

  90. Daniel Schealler says

    @Rich Scott #32

    An example that really brought this across to me, was going to an event with some Christian friends as an athiest. I ended up getting into a debate with a bloke there about Christianity, where I very quickly knocked down his arguments in short order. He looked really shaken, and then he just said ‘But if there’s no God, then our daughter isn’t in heaven.’

    I also would have stopped the discussion there.

    But also let it stand as Exhibit #34,972: Religion does not help people in regard to their grief over the death of a loved one as is often claimed. Religion just gives them the ability to remain stuck at the denial stage for as long as they can maintain the ruse.

    Preventing genuine acceptance and grief over death of a loved one doesn’t do anyone any favors. It is harmful to the bereaved.

    Sadly, the man in your example hadn’t been helped by religion at all. It makes me so angry that people get so uniquely harmed by religion at the most vulnerable points in their lives, in such a way that the religion itself becomes entrenched stronger in the minds of the vulnerable.

    I don’t remember if that was in Greta’s book (devoured it in one sitting, so a lot failed to stick). If not, it really should have been. I’m really pissed off about it.

    That poor man. Fuck.

  91. says

    Daniel Schealler #100

    I’m not sure.
    Is this analogous with empirically “proving” to a humanist that mankind is a vicious, brutal, self destructive, animal? Constrained by the same laws of nature and dictates that every other animal is subject to and one that will almost certainly breed itself to catastrophe within a few generations?
    Is it “harmful” to the humanist to be allowed to continue deluding themselves?
    Is the capacity for self delusion, rationalization and fantasy just a religous perogative? Doesn’t everyone put something between themselves and bottomless nothingness?
    ,

  92. Bruce Gorton says

    No soap was harmed

    You know, here is one of the things that gets me with religion.

    The basic technique you are using right here, is called negging, and if you were to use it in dating, it would class you as a scumbag.

    Religion is a perfect example of negging. The truth is that without the whole

    “mankind is a vicious, brutal, self destructive, animal” bit, nobody would believe it. It takes insulting our species to make it work because people often want the approval of assholes.

    Frankly I do not think “mankind is a vicious, brutal, self destructive, animal” – I think we are simply animals.

  93. says

    Bruce Gorton

    If you’re denying that there’s any existence of ample empirical evidence that suggests we are in fact brutal, vicious, self destructive animals then i’m afraid you’re either ignorant, stupid or insane. (Dawkins Yay!)
    The fact that you dont “want” to and “choose” not to accept the ample evidence is a nice way of proving my point that everybody puts something between themselves and bottomless nothingness, religous or otherwise.

  94. Bruce Gorton says

    No soap was harmed

    There you go negging again. You know it really doesn’t say attractive things about you personally doing that, but I digress.

    I am not denying any such evidence, I just don’t have a romantic view of the rest of the world’s species and I am not blind to the evidence that goes the other way.

    I note that it is not usual within our species for the “new male” in it to engage in infanticide, I also note that warfare is fairly common in other simians. Our self-destructive habits are observed in most species with high over-crowding, the only difference is that we, being smarter tool users, are also more capable of doing damage.

    In terms of brutality – we aren’t particularly bad. That male lion that kills the pride’s cubs isn’t losing any sleep over it.

    Self destructiveness, such as with environmental issues, can be readily noted in examples such as goats introduced to Island biomes. They eat everything in sight, and thus end up starving much as humans did in the legend of Easter Island.

    With the fall of religion we as a species have become far more compassionate and less brutal. We are not in the era of the Spanish inquisition, and we do not attend arenas where people are fed to lions.

    In fact it is funny how often our most base and brutal actions are done at the behest of some religion or other. Religion seems to magnify not nullify the very worst of our species, after all it takes religion to convince a parent their child needs to be tortured to get rid of the “evil spirits.”

    We have just been fed Disney style bullshit of what nature is actually like, and been taught that humanity “sucks” basically as a means of keeping us under the thumb of the humans who suck most.

    Left to our own devices we as a whole are no worse than any other, and in fact our greater capabilities with regard to destruction have also led to a greater ability to avert it.

    What other species would send aid to its fellows in the case of the Japanese tsunami, or would send food and medics to Somalia? You see warfare, I see that at the beginning of the 20th century the average life span was around 30, and where is it now?

  95. Bruce Gorton says

    No soap was harmed

    As to whether I am a humanist – I don’t define myself as one, though my personal philosophy is influenced by it.

    What I am however, is just someone who long ago noted that misanthropy is the idiot’s substitute for profundity.

  96. says

    Bruce Gorton

    Got any examples of other animals doing this sort of stuff and possessing the intelligence to invent ethics and morality and then doing it anyway?
    Puppies have a nuclear stockpile?
    Bunnies had two world wars last century?
    We’re no worse than butterflies?
    Oh.
    Yes Bruce, religion is the debil debil.
    I learnt long ago that that the capacity for rationalization and self delusion is universal amongst homo sapiens regardless of belief.
    I also learnt long ago that people that resort to personal insults during discussions aren’t usually very bright.

  97. says

    Bruce Gorton

    I want to apologise to you Bruce.
    You completely missed the point of my comment to Daniel Sheealler, decided that I was misanthrope and went into battle.
    I’ve been lazily trying to stir you up ever since and that’s wrong and I’m sorry. I’m actually not a misanthrope. I’m not optimistic for humanity but theres’s always hope.
    My recent discovery that there’s so many zealous,bigoted, fundementalist, evagelical, proselytizing atheists out there sent me into a kind of anaphylactic shock. An irony overdose if you will.
    No excuse to be rude.
    Sorry.

  98. Bruce Gorton says

    No soap was harmed

    I also learnt long ago that people that resort to personal insults during discussions aren’t usually very bright.

    Hmmm hmmm?

    . I’ll keep getting along with people and
    you guys can be as “rightously” hate filled as you like.

    It doesn’t consist of sitting in safety behind your computer screen being omniscient and abusive towards people on the internet that have the slightest difference of opinion to you does it?

    But where does this tendency you’ve got to whittle the world down into neat little packages? Black and white good and bad?

    Yeah, you are not exactly shy when it comes to insulting people.

    Got any examples of other animals doing this sort of stuff and possessing the intelligence to invent ethics and morality and then doing it anyway?

    I have got plenty of examples of religion not particularly stopping any of that sort of stuff, and seeming to make it happen more often. For a crutch, it seems more inclined to break the believer’s leg than keep him or her standing.

    And besides, your argument is based upon capability – which isn’t relevant to measuring whether a species is brutal or inclined to self destruction. The soldiers who tortured prisoners in Gitmo were complete morons, it didn’t make what they did any less brutal, it just meant they had less sleepless nights over it.

    You say you are Australian, yet you obviously do not note the damage done by rabbits to Australia’s eco system.

    Our moral and ethical systems do stop us from “doing it anyway” unless we can think of an excuse to do it anyway. This is the true nature of religion, which gives you the out of “just following orders.”

    It stops people thinking – and is consequently every bit as harmful as any other authoritarian structure. It is no different to following a dictator, except the dictator is imaginary.

  99. KG says

    we are in fact brutal, vicious, self destructive animals – No soap was harmed

    An unsound generalisation from your own case, perhaps.

  100. KG says

    Why do I believe people have a natural inclination to subjegate their will to a higher authority?
    Um
    Isn’t there a super abundance of Kings, Cheiftans, Conquerers and Gods populating human history? – no soap was harmed

    If you were less ignorant, you would be aware that kings, chieftains, conquerors and all-powerful, moralistic gods do not exist in the small-scale societies we know about – societies of the size our ancestors mostly lived in before the invention of agriculture. So that supposedly “natural inclination” is situational. Once societies grew past a certain size, initially “Big Men” appeared: these individuals do not have the authority of chiefs or kings, and cannot pass it to their sons, but maintain influence through their perceived personal qualities and through gift-giving. Only in societies of several thousand individuals do chiefs who are able to command rather than persuade arise – and not always then. And both the classical world and that of the last few centuries show that the supposed “natural inclination” to subjugate onself to a higher authority is no such thing.

    But it’s quite clear you intend to maintain your ignorance unsullied.

  101. says

    KG

    And both the classical world and that of the last few centuries show that the supposed “natural inclination” to subjugate onself to a higher authority is no such thing.

    No argument from me, but I’d just like to add “unless that authority, real or supernatural, is brandishing a very big stick.”

  102. says

    My recent discovery that there’s so many zealous,bigoted, fundementalist, evagelical, proselytizing atheists out there sent me into a kind of anaphylactic shock. An irony overdose if you will.

    You want to see zealous,bigoted, fundementalist, evagelical? This.

    You need to step back and take a look at some of the definitions you’re using.

  103. says

    KG #112
    “And both the classical world and that of the last few centuries show that the supposed “natural inclination” to subjugate onself to a higher authority is no such thing.”

    Wha?
    There’s been a complete abscence of Gods, Kings, Generals, Presidents, Police, Armies, Popes, and billionairs that the general population has shown and continues to show fealty to since classical times?
    Completely delusional much?

    I also wasn’t “ignorant” of anything you told me about ancient societies. They still had their Gods, superstitions, tribal law and witchdoctors. None of which, I might add, were considered a good idea to fuck with.When the Europeans arived in Australia and America there were no Chieftains or Tribal leaders that told people what to do?

    nice link dude here’s onehttp://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=evangelical%20atheist

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=evangelical%20atheist

  104. KG says

    There’s been a complete abscence of Gods, Kings, Generals, Presidents, Police, Armies, Popes, and billionairs that the general population has shown and continues to show fealty to since classical times? – No soap was harmed

    Of course, I said nothing of the kind, as you must be very well aware. That you have to resort to such gross misrepresentation is very telling. In both classical times, and the last few centuries, there have been widespread and partially successful movements to end the tyranny of arbitrary rule, of religious institutions, of military power, and of the rich. Of course, there have also been powerful movements to suppress such struggles for freedom.

    I also wasn’t “ignorant” of anything you told me about ancient societies. They still had their Gods, superstitions, tribal law and witchdoctors. None of which, I might add, were considered a good idea to fuck with.When the Europeans arived in Australia and America there were no Chieftains or Tribal leaders that told people what to do?

    On the contrary, you are demonstrating your ignorance once again, as well as your propensity to misrepresent others. I was very specific: the lack of chiefs, kings, conquerors and all-powerful, moralistic gods refers to those small societies we know of. I did not say there were no gods or superstitions – again, you are grossly misrepresenting me. In much if not all of Australia it appears there were indeed no chiefs or kings before Europeans arrived. The same was true throughout Melanesia, although in some cases (and possibly also in parts of Australia) there were “Big Men” who had influence, but no power of command. The absence of chiefs or kings was also true in parts of southern Africa, and in a few areas of the Americas. As I said, and repeat, only in societies of a few thousand or more do chiefs or kings appear, and all-powerful moralistic gods seem to be largely if not entirely confined to societies which have this kind of hierarchy.

  105. Drolfe says

    It’s good to see No Soap is still reading! You were wondering, hey if it’s not hurting me and mine, what’s the harm? Well this just came up, this is the harm. These guys make and pass laws. So there’s that.

    I think you’re kind of missing KG’s point though, that you can’t make a naturalistic argument that humans evolved to follow, to be sheep or be subjugated or whatever, when the bulk of human evolution occurred in pre-agrarian societies, you know, before the invention of kings and justifications for kings like divine right, etc.

  106. says

    I’ve been at a conference, with limited time and internet connection, and have been unable to moderate this conversation until now.

    So I am now going to remind everyone in this conversation: Please read my comment policy. No personal insults; no namecalling; no deliberate attempts to provoke fights; no consistently being unpleasant, nasty, snide, sarcastic, nitpicky, assuming the worst possible intentions, or otherwise just generally being an asshole. Please express disagreements with ideas while remaining civil towards the people expressing them. This is not Pharyngula: I like Pharyngula, but I strive to maintain a different tone in the conversations on my blog. Please respect that. Thank you.

  107. KG says

    My apologies, Greta Christina.

    Thanks Drolfe, that is indeed my main point – plus, that where circumstances have allowed in mass societies, popular movements aqainst hierarchy and subordination have arisen. People certainly have the capacity to subordinate themselves to a ruler; they also have the capacity to resist such subordination, individually and collectively. There is no reason to consider the latter less “inherent” than the former.

  108. says

    Hi Drolfe,

    I’m arguing that the basic capacity for humanity to subjegate their will to a higher authority predates any agrarian society by a very, very long way.
    Much like Gorillas have silver back males and Wolves have a dominant breeding pair I imagine that humans have had “leaders” for as long as we’ve been human.
    When humans first became religious remains unknown, but there is credible evidence of religious behavior from the Middle Paleolithic era 300–500 thousand years ago and possibly earlier.
    My argumentis that a long history of doing what we were told by big males, witchdoctors and pre agrarian religious behaviour manifested into Kings and divine right and monotheistic big beards in the sky. These things didnt just pop into existence by magic 4000 years ago. They have roots.
    I’m very sorry that there are people like Bubba in the world and obviously he needs to be opposed as vigourously as possible. He’s hardly evidence that religion is soley a force of evil though. Doesn’t change the fact that the Quakers and the Evangelicals were inspiredby their religion to oppose slavery for example. He’s not evidence that my friends and family members personal gods are harmful to them or to anybody else. If one of my friends or family express and urge to enter politics for the purpose of making a cunt of themselves like Bubba I will be sure to try to dissuade them as forcefully as I possibly can. But the chances of me making a pre emptive assault on their personal gods on the basis that they hypothetically might, one day, maybe be arseholes is zilch I’m afraid. The relationship that these people have with their imaginary friends is between them and their “higher power”

  109. says

    KG

    Did you know that peole with different opinions to you aren’t actually irrefutably demonstrating their inferiority to you?
    Is that an amazing premise?
    Worth thinking about?

  110. Drolfe says

    Hey, great that you heard me, but having leaders since our early mammalian ancestors implies religion how? It doesn’t. But further it doesn’t at all speak to the goodness of badness, since again naturalistic fallacy, etc.

    That aside, it’s great that you are so go along to get along. I’m sure your bros love that you accommodate their quirky beliefs and the quirky behaviors it inspires, your family too.

    I myself consider wrong beliefs harmful, and causing harm in general to be immoral. So when I discuss this sort of topic — when it is brought up with me by someone else — I am absolutely trying to change minds rather than just go-along. Otherwise the conversation is just so much wanking, “Oh that’s what you believe? That’s so cool! I think the world is a mite older than that, myself” — etc. Telling people it’s OK to be wrong if it makes one feel better isn’t dignified or honorable or even laudable. Imo, it’s pretty despicable and arrogant. If you like you can investigate the ethics of belief on the Internet or even a library.

  111. Greta Christina says

    No soap was harmed was warned about being repeatedly unpleasant, nasty, snide, sarcastic in this blog. They have ignored that warning, and have now been banned.

  112. Drolfe says

    Oh. Ok. I guess he won’t be getting back to me on that.

    Well, I still think consequentialism is a pretty OK way to go about making choices, so I’ll just stand by putting that out there for wev.

  113. opposablethumbs says

    I’m coming back late to this, but I’d just like to apologise to Greta Christina for my language earlier. This is one of the blogs I prize and I’m sorry I was out of order upthread.

  114. Daniel Schealler says

    @No soap was harmed #102

    Obviously it’s a bit unfair to respond to you after you’ve been banned. But you’ve raised something that’s worth talking about in a more general sense, so this is intended as just general observation and some commentary. It’s not intended as a direct criticism.

    1) I’m not sure.

    2) Is this analogous with empirically “proving” to a humanist that mankind is a vicious, brutal, self destructive, animal?

    3) Constrained by the same laws of nature and dictates that every other animal is subject to and one that will almost certainly breed itself to catastrophe within a few generations?

    4) Is it “harmful” to the humanist to be allowed to continue deluding themselves?

    5) Is the capacity for self delusion, rationalization and fantasy just a religous perogative?

    6) Doesn’t everyone put something between themselves and bottomless nothingness?

    Diclaimer #1: There’s a contradiction between 2) and 4). If something has been empirically proven, it’s not delusional to accept it as such. I’m not blind to the scare quotes around ‘proven’, just ignoring them as hyperbole.

    Disclaimer #2: I don’t grant that 2) and 3) are actually correct, or that they are worthy interpretations of the facts. It seems to me that it is far more accurate to say that humans share both altruistic and selfish traits, and that these can be emphasized or reduced both between individuals at a genetic level and also by environmental triggers.

    Disclaimers aside: Assume that it is provably true that humans are vicious, back-biting, and so forth as described in no-soap’s strawman.

    Knowing this information about our natures would still be a good thing because that is the first step to empowering us to resolve or manage the problem.

    Denial of the problem would be no solution at all: It would be a problem in itself because it would prevent us from coming to a solution.

    Finally, in regard to 5): The stance I take is one that is opposed to self delusion, rationalization and fantasy (except in the context of enjoying fictional art, obviously). I can’t claim to be personally free of all self delusion, because how would you tell? But even so, if anyone can demonstrate that a belief I hold is unsupported and delusional, then I will (eventually) stop holding it. It might take a bit of time and effort depending on how deep the belief is… But I’m confident that I would abandon it eventually, whatever the consequences.

  115. ~C says

    If people think that disease is caused by demonic possession, or that global climate change is a hoax, or that deregulating the financial industry will lead to a robustly healthy economy for all levels of society…

    When you lump in ideas with demonic possession I know that you intend both an offhanded and backhanded insult to those ideas. I’m sure you think most of your readers will appreciate the wink and the nudge.

    I don’t.

    So I can see why some might not want you “discussing” their most closely held beliefs… they may be sensibly concerned about a lack of respect for the discussion itself.

    I will not be returning to read your blog, despite certain clear commonalities of belief.

  116. Stu says

    Ahem, ~C, demonic possession is an as widely held belief as the other ones. That you are irrational about one or both of the others mentioned does not validate your special pleading.

  117. says

    I should preface my remarks by saying that I am an agnostic but not, strictly speaking, an atheist.

    I have no problem with posts, bus ads etc.

    What I would find potentially harmful to some people is any vigorous–bordering on coercive–effort to persuade a believer in some circumstances. I developed this bias in reaction to deprogramming. We don’t always know the role belief is playing in someone’s psyche. There were points in my own life that despite ample amounts of psychotherapy I remained suicidal and one of the last remaining reasons I had for not killing myself was uncertainty about any potential negative spiritual effects. A childhood tradition said it was a mortal sin and ticket to hell. A religion I was involved with later maintained that there was bad karma and that I’d just have to come back and suffer the same way again and try to get it right (such as deal with it sans suicide) so why bother? That fear and uncertainty made me hesitate and keep sticking it out in therapy until my depression subsided. If someone convinced me there was nothing after death at all, that would have been a comforting thought and would have made suicide much more attractive to me.

    Sure there are anti-depressants and therapies but they don’t always work quickly enough for every person that makes use of them. I have tried a number of anti-depressants and now with my heart disease many of them are closed to me. None has worked without severe side effects that mimic chest pain (gastric). So to come in and try to convince someone in that state that there is no God and therefore no punishment for suicide might be something they are eager to hear but for all the wrong reasons at that moment in time. We can’t always know exactly what religion is doing for the person we talk to about it. The most I try to do with believers is encourage them to not push their beliefs on me or expect me to live my own life in accordance with them. I think that is perfectly fair and shouldn’t be harmful.

  118. federico r.bar says

    Greta: I would like to post a thought that occurred to me – a bit late – I read your question only today.

    …..We try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We try to persuade people that their ideas about science, politics, philosophy, art, medicine, and more, are wrong (…..). Why should religion be the exception?…..

    The ideas about the other disciplines you mentioned, can change because they are ideas, so they are based on some kind of reasoning. Right or wrong, they handle arguments. Circumstances change, and people who discuss them may have reasons to change their viewpoints without being considered weather vanes.

    But I think it is very difficult, near impossible, to change religious ideas, precisely because they are not ideas. Rainbows, heavens, paradises, unworried afterlifes hammered into childish brains as glittering images and solemn tales, are likely to stay there forever and ever. They are not allowed to use their reason. They are forced to believe.
    A saying in Spanish goes (in any field): believe it, or burst!

    Also, many religious folks have that strange missionary attitude, to feel sorry for those poor people who do not believe.

    Regards,

    Federico

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  1. […] Why Should Religion Get a Free Ride? If you aren’t following Greta Christina’s blog yet you’re missing out. She posts such thought-provoking material. I have no interest in deconverting theists but I agree that the same standards should apply to everyone. Either it’s appropriate to try to talk everyone/anyone out of their (ir)religious beliefs or it isn’t.  What general-you identifies as is irrelevant. […]

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