Measured Against Reality

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Should we respect religion?

I’ve been meaning to write on this for a little while, and the documentary on the portrayal of the bible in movies throughout the past century currently on has finally pushed me to do it.

The part that inspired me was the reaction of British Christians to a broadcast of the Jerry Springer Opera sometime in 2005. Apparently it mocked religion and offended them quite badly. This brought me back to topic that has been talked about quite a bit lately, especially because of Richard Dawkins, and that is “Does religion deserve respect?”

My answer should come as no surprise: no, it does not. Religion is an idea just like any other, and just like any other it should stand on its merits alone. Personally, I can’t see any reason to get offended over what an outsider says of your religion. If you’re so secure in your faith, shouldn’t you just shrug it off?

I suspect it’s because believers know how absurd their religion is, and don’t want anyone to point out its flaws. It’s very easy to make almost any religion look very stupid by simply summing up its mythology, and that could make people question their faith, which is a huge no-no. But of course, that’s something like a religious person saying I’m an atheist because I want to live outside god’s morals (which is absolutely ridiculous). Perhaps because I hold nothing sacred, I simply don’t understand what it’s like to have something sacred mocked.

Nonetheless, should we not mock religion? I very highly doubt that any Christian would be upset over the near-constant mocking of Islam in our popular culture, and I very highly doubt that any Muslim would object to a thorough thrashing of Christianity. It seems as though the only religion that the religious want to protect is their own. Which is an understandable, if untenable, position.

Given the fact that we don’t hold any other personal ideology beyond criticism, that restrictions on mocking religion constrict free speech (which is always bad, if only as a “slippery slope”), and that the religious feel free to mock other religions, I can see no reason to automatically respect religion.

That being said, I want to make a distinction between criticizing or mocking religion as an idea, and doing it specifically to upset a person. If people get offended because you make their religion look stupid, that’s their problem. If you intentionally use someone’s sensitivity about their religion to upset them, then that’s your problem. Personally, I try not to discuss religion with anyone who I care about and may offend, and I think that most atheists feel similarly (as far as I can tell).

Now if the religious would stop calling atheists evil, immoral, etc. Oh hypocrisy…

As a final note, I will shortly be giving my number one reason that Christianity is, well, bullshit. It’s good, believe me.


  • I quote, "If you’re so secure in your faith, shouldn’t you just shrug it off?"

    Don't you think that's a very poor argument to make, placing the onus on the receiver rather than the insulters? If your question justifies not giving religion respect, then it justifies racism, ageism, sexism and just about every single type of discrimination there is, because it puts the blame on the victims by implying that they are insecure in their identities.

    By that same line of logic, you shouldn't be bothered about atheists being insulted by the religious, since you are presumably secure in your faith. So why are you asking the religious to "stop calling atheists evil, immoral, etc"?

    I am a Christian, and I get just as upset about Christianity being criticized as I do when people judge me based on my race or my gender. I certainly do NOT think it's because Christianity is inherently shrewn with flaws.

    A more reasonable non-religious explanation is that NO ONE likes being criticized. NO ONE likes any part of themselves, their lives, their identities, their culture their beliefs etc to be insulted. This is especially the case when whatever's being insulted is deeply entrenched into their idea of themselves, such as religion.

    I enjoy reading your blog, even though you make your stand on Christianity very clear. That's because I respect your views, even if I don't agree with them. I only ask that you do the same for religion.

    I was shocked when you said that religion didn't deserve respect. As a Christian, I certainly don't buy Islam or Hinduism or other religions, but I would still respect it because religious insensitivity is just about as bad and as divisive as racism. Harp on religious differences too much, and you'll get what you're getting now; extremism, lack of understanding, blind insults and disastrous consequences.

    By the way, I WAS upset when, for example, cartoons of Prophet Mohammed were published, even though I wasn't a Muslim. I was upset because I saw it as a blatant sign of disrespect and bigotry.

    However, even if I wasn't upset, it would be because it wasn't my religion that was being insulted. It's the same thing as not getting (as) upset when you're not the target of condemnation.

    I like reading your entries because you're obviously an intelligent person. However, I hope that you would display some more of your usually impeccable logic and deep thinking in your posts on religion.

    By Blogger JeNn, at 4:40 AM, December 18, 2006  

  • I was actually legitimately asking that, because it seems to me like it should be the case. I don't get offended when someone mocks atheism, because I know it is the superior position. I similarly don't get offended when people mock anything else about me (and believe me, there is plenty to mock). I genuinely don't understand getting offended.

    It's kind of odd that you lump race, age, and sex in with religion, because you don't choose any of those things. Don't you actively choose a religion? To me it's more like political affiliation rather than innate qualities.

    Nonetheless, when it comes to speech, I would allow racism, sexism, or anything else. I would still argue against it, but I believe very strongly in free speech, which means bad things come with good things.

    The comment about calling atheists evil and immoral was just pointing out the hypocrisy many religious people display (note: many not all. There are doubtless religious people who don't do this). If their religion is beyond criticism, then shouldn't my atheism be too? But it's not, so neither is their religion.

    (In case you're not aware, atheists are the most vilified group in America. People are more willing to accept a gay president than an atheist president, even though we should be perfectly accepting of either).

    There are many people on "my side" of the "culture war" (whatever it is) who aren't on "my side" of this argument, and they use a similar rationale to yours. I highly, highly doubt that being critical of religion has caused the divisiveness we currently see. I'm fairly sure this divisiveness has more or less always existed, and what we're currently experiencing is the result of having many religions together and having to cooperate. Racism wouldn't be a problem if no one had to interact with someone of a different race.

    I see religion as just another idea, like raising the minimum wage, that has to rise or fall on its own merits. If it's not open to criticism, then its flaws (or strengths) never get truly exposed. This means that, like the civil discourse over at Debunking Christianity, you'll have the not-so-civil discourse on South Park or with the Muhammad cartoons (by the way, the most offensive cartoons weren't actually published, they were made by Muslim clerics to provoke the response).

    Besides, if we start censoring discourse on religion, where do we stop? That's what I meant when I quickly mentioned "slipper-slope" arguments in the main post.

    However, (I think I made this distinction in the main post), mocking religion as an idea to point out its absurdities (a la South Park), and using it specifically to insult people are two different things. In the former, offending people is not the primary intention, it's more a type of collateral damage. In the latter, offensive is the primary intention, and there is no collateral good.

    I support the South-Park-style insulting of religion, but not the making-fun-of-people-style. Perhaps you don't see a difference, to me it's very clear.

    (As a final note, I actually do "support" any speech, but certain ones only in the "I may not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it" sense).

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 10:27 AM, December 18, 2006  

  • I wasn't particularly offended when I read your post, or even when I read that article on the link you provided to Debunking Christianity a while ago. However, I can understand it if people get offended when their religion is mocked - I've been offended before (a close (American) friend of mine's an adamant atheist) - and I don't think that just because you don't understand people getting offended means that you should blame them should they get offended. But nevermind, this is a petty issue.

    I don't think it's odd at all that I likened religious discrimination to racism, ageism and sexism, because the issue of choice here is a red herring. People may choose religion (although sometimes they don't, but I'd better not nitpick) but so what? In the end, their beliefs and convictions are so strong that they are willing to die for it. It's just as integral to their identity as the qualities they can't choose.

    Political affiliation is less like religion than the abovementioned identities, because it very often isn't quite as deeply ingrained into a person's brain as religious ideas are.

    Meanwhile, I believe in free speech too, but only if it's made responsibly. Free speech isn't such a wonderful thing that it should be abused to create social disorder or further wrong ideas.

    I really don't think it's hypocritical for the religious to call the atheists immoral or evil. I certainly don't advocate it, but I can understand why they do it. You do realise that atheism is unique as a faith in that instead of making pro-atheism arguments, you make anti-religion arguments. What I mean by that is that when the religious try to convert the non-believers, they very often give reasons as to why their own religion is good, and seldom, if ever, use anti-(other religions) arguments to further their cause.

    You might say that making anti-religious arguments is exactly the point of atheism, since atheism is faith in the lack of faith. I wouldn't exactly agree, because atheism is about not believing that there is a God. It's not about not believing that there is specifically the Christian God, or the Buddha, etc. There are plenty of arguments you could use to try and disprove the existence of God without targeting any specific religions.

    You could disagree that atheism is a faith at all, just as my friend does, but if that's the case then it's a very passive (dis)belief. If that's the case, then why bother coming up with entire websites to debunk religion? That's going further than the religious themselves, since they don't go through all that effort to criticize another religion!

    I am, by the way, very much aware of the state of atheists in America. I don't agree with Christians who judge others simply because they don't think the same way, but that's not what Christianity teaches either. So please don't blame stupid Christian Americans on Christianity. In fact, I recommend that you quote them passages from the Bible to show them how they're not following the Word of God. It'd annoy them to hell, but heck it'll be fun =)

    "I highly, highly doubt that being critical of religion has caused the divisiveness we currently see." Well then, do you think that it's being accepting of religion that caused it? Come on! Just look at the Middle East! You criticize my religion, I get insulted, I criticize your religion, you get angry, we both start disliking people of each other's religions. That's how it works, man.

    Seems like Americans don't really care about collateral damage, eh...

    By Blogger JeNn, at 9:38 PM, December 18, 2006  

  • Jenn, how do you know if an idea is wrong if you can't discuss it?

    People are willing to die for all sorts of things, family, country, liberty, and many others. None of those are considered sacred. And political ideologies most certainly do become an ingrained part of a person, they can color incoming information (as a recent study showed, but it was all over the news and I've linked to it before so I'm not going to look for it now).

    The last part of your comment has all been answered dozens of times by dozens of people. I'll only comment on why I discuss religion.

    It is ubiquitous, and it affects everything. I happen to think it is a largely negative force in our world. I seek to debunk it for that reason. There are pro-atheism arguments one can make, but these are largely refutations of arguments presented by the religious (such as atheists are not immoral, etc), or refutations of certain "god concepts".

    Or you can debunk specific religions. If I were in Iran I'd probably debunk Islam, and if I were in Israel I'd debunk Judaism, and if I were in ancient Greece I'd debunk the ancient Greek gods. But I am in the US, and so I (largely) discuss Christianity, because it is the most relevant.

    I'll also note that many of my posts are about god-concepts or some other non-religion-specific concepts. And many aren't about religion at all. Lately I've been very lazy, and haven't been posting as much as I should.

    But I am writing something right now, which is why this response will be so short.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 9:52 PM, December 18, 2006  

  • "It's kind of odd that you lump race, age, and sex in with religion, because you don't choose any of those things. Don't you actively choose a religion? To me it's more like political affiliation rather than innate qualities."

    There. It's right there. I've said it all along. Stu you don't know what real faith is. You've never felt it and you have no understanding of that dimension of the soul that real faith plays upon.

    If you have a god (or false idol ;) ) is the scientific method - empiricism and rationality for the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake. You have no real concern for *why* there is any knowledge to acquire. That's fine in and of itself.

    But, in the market of ideas, the criticism of religion offers no alternative to the positive prescriptive morality and sense of real community that real honest religious tradition do.

    You can feel free to question our beliefs, as we will feel free to marginalize yours. You are a member of a marginal community. Atheism has always been a marginal community and it will likely remain that way.

    Criticism of religion is fine. Since the enlightenment there has been intellectual criticism of religion. That is part of the western tradition that the tolerance of our society allows. This is not a coincidence.

    Deconstruction for deconstruction's sake is something that should be taken very carefully.

    By Blogger Nicholas, at 9:08 PM, December 20, 2006  

  • Nicholas, there are so many outright errors in your comment that I have no idea where to even begin.

    No, I don't know what real faith is, but so what?

    There is knowledge to seek because the universe exists (and we exist). We are currently working on both of those things. We may never know the specifics, but we may at some point. All I can say now is "we don't know, but we're trying to figure it out". What else do you want?

    This is just stupid. Morality does not come from religion. If it did we'd still be stoning adulterers or disobedient children. Have you ever read the Bible? It forbids things like dancing, eating shrimp, and wearing pearls. It also openly endorses slavery. And any social activity can give a sense of community, I've wanted to write a post about how my brother's soccer or baseball leagues fulfilled this purpose very nicely.

    How is me questioning your beliefs and you marginalizing mine a symmetric relationship? You're essentially saying "nyah-nyah we have the power so you lose". You also seem to be forgetting that atheists are about 10% of America's population, and our numbers are growing. How could such a marginal group put two books on the topseller lists at once? Besides, being in the minority does not mean we're wrong; all ideas begin in the minority.

    You just said it yourself, criticism of religion only began a few hundred years ago. I'd say it hadn't begun in earnest until very recently. And is it a coincidence that as soon as we began methodically studying the natural world we started to find religion's flaws? I think not.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 9:23 PM, December 20, 2006  

  • No, we'll make you feel like a marginal group as long as you are one, and as long as atheist writers continue with the intellectually arrogant "your beliefs don't even deserve respect" tone. You chose your beliefs, but I didn't choose mine. My faith found me, one way or the other. I didn't choose it "like i'd choose a political affiliation."

    The state of this debate will not change. We will not renounce God and join baseball clubs - while this is a sense of community it does not provide the moral or ethical frameworks that religion and faith provide.

    Remember that I am not a Christian. I am not a biblical literalist. I agree with the moral foundations of most modern Christian and Jewish faiths - and you do too. Your morality is derived culturally and historically from theirs. The permissive culture that allows people like you to question the faith of the majority is derived from the tolerance of modern Christian culture.

    There has been criticism of religion since time immemorial. It's always been marginal, it will remain marginal. You have nothing but criticism to provide. No moral foundation, no source of real community based on ethical principles, just cold rationality.

    If you haven't noticed, "coldly rational people" like yourself are a minority of human beings. You may be proud of that, but it doesn't make your beliefs any more compelling to those of us who aren't of that particular composition.

    By Blogger Nicholas, at 9:20 AM, December 21, 2006  

  • Nicholas, how can you possibly say that I chose my beliefs and you didn't? What makes you think that I could be anything but an atheist? You're so blatantly hypocritical that it's absurd.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 1:18 PM, December 21, 2006  

  • Stuart, I agree with you that religion deserves no more respect than any other idea. But trying to get the religious folk to understand the higher morality of doing the right thing because it's the right thing and not because their daddy in the sky will spank them if they don't is wasting your breath.

    Religion, while it may have served some good purpose in the past (that's debatable, but I'm willing to entertain the idea) is at this point nothing but an impediment to progress. It keeps us from understanding the true nature of our place in the universe and on this planet, as one species among many (something religious people don't want to see because they're inherently insecure, and want to feel themselves a child of God or made in His image, and not just a really clever animal). And if we're not willing to offend people by discussing and debunking religion, we'll never get past the point where we are, with the various sects killing each other. Now, I wouldn't mind so much if they'd just kill each other off, but the rest of us get caught in the crossfire, and that's not fair.

    By Anonymous honestpoet, at 7:42 AM, December 29, 2006  

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