Monday, December 5, 2011

Inviolable Faith Stupid Theology Part 3


Stupid Theology Part 3: Inviolable Faith


[Disclaimer: My 'stupid theology' series is where I can vent and rant against religion. It is more of a rant really--so take it as a matter of informed opinion. As such, these polemical views should be viewed as part of a larger encompassing dialectic and should not be taken personally. I hope that the reader will be aware that I have genuine, valid, rational complaints about religion which should be taken seriously and not simply ignored because my views are opposed to the throng of believers who have it in their mind that their religion is sacrosanct and thereby impregnable.]

On Religious Intolerance, Apologetic Hypersensitivity, and Homophobia
In the past week I have been lambasted and accused for saying hurtful and intolerant things, and get this, for something I didn't even say. That's right, you heard right. But because an atheist said it (somewhere)—I (being an atheist too) was guilty by default. 

As if all atheists prescribed to the same orthodox dogma and held all the exact same predetermined worldviews. Yet if anyone understood even just one atheist they would understand that atheists hardly agree on anything—except what makes them atheist—namely their unbelief in gods, other deities, and the supernatural. Beyond that, the only way to know what an atheist believes is to ask one.

Hey, I'm not saying I haven't ever said anything controversial or meant to provoke, but please, at least be fair enough to give credit where credit is due (and not maim the messenger).

There I was—with two angry Christians breathing down my neck—irate with me for having linked to an article written by a different atheist which criticized their sacrosanct religion. Never mind that, as far as I can tell, both Christians seemingly misread the criticism—which wasn’t directed at all of Christianity but just a particular denomination, namely Baptist Christianity, and then not really even Baptist Christianity, but rather a strange cultish offshoot of Baptist Christianity.

When I pointed all this out—and reminded my hot headed Christian detractors that it wasn't my quote which decried the Christianity
—I merely decried the contemptible Christian organization—neither Christian took the time to apologize for maltreating me with their misdirected scorn. More than this, however, was that they apparently didn't know what it was they were even supposed to be angry about exactly. They just assumed an atheist said something against Christianity and immediately, in a knee-jerk reaction of religious hypersensitivity, started defending their faith (even though it was technically the cult being criticized, not their particular beliefs). 

As part of the defense, they did the predictable thing all Christians do when they want to distance themselves from other Christians they don't agree with, they pulled out the No True Scotsman fallacy trump card and claimed that the cult wasn't a Christian one. For no true Christian, I was told, could do such cruel and despicable things and still call themselves true Christians (obviously they never studied much Christian history).

Additionally, I pointed out to them that the U.S. state which the cult resides in, the sect is legally recognized as a part of the Baptist Church. So their protests were largely in vain. Until they can convince the U.S. government that a particular Baptist Church isn’t Baptist enough, then there is no way to expect they can convince anyone else that the Baptist sect is not, in fact, part of Protestant Christian faith.

Jilted
Later on in the week, a well meaning Christian made the mistake of assuming that my atheism is a mental state of merely being angry at God—and was told I am merely in rebellion. A day later my mother informed me that this is what she thought as well. 

After peeling my palm off of my face, I simply pointed out that atheists can’t be angry at something that they don’t even believe exists. How could something which doesn’t exist get me angry? How could I feel that something which doesn’t exist owes me? It makes no sense.

It would be like a little Buddhist child throwing a fit when Winter solstice rolled around and they didn’t get a present from Santa Claus, which by the way they don’t believe in, on a Holiday they don’t even celebrate. Not only is the idea silly—it’s also condescending. It shows a lack of understanding and consideration for other people’s worldviews. When a Christian tells an atheist they are merely angry and rebelling against God, the Christian has absolutely failed to understand what atheism is and means.

But the subtle connotation behind the accusation is clear. The so-called rebellion is viewed as the atheist being arrogant thinking they are better than God. At least that’s the religious take. But I find it is just rude to claim as much about another person’s views which you have demonstrated a total lack of understanding of. Furthermore, by assuming atheists are conceited and arrogant, and this is the only reason for their rebellion an subsequent rejection of religion, is to assume all atheists just aren’t emotionally mature enough to base their atheism off of valid reasons why God doesn’t exist. It’s the same as claiming atheists are irrational—because a rational person wouldn’t reject God!

Irrationality
Needless to say, this brings me to another complaint. Religious apologists who like to claim atheists are irrational. Granted, no one person is entirely rational all of the time, but it seems that there are detectable religious bred delusions which can sway people to believe in peculiar things. 



The atheist criticism that many religious people act irrationally is based on the evidence that religion frequently influences the mind to believe in unbelievable things that are all without justification. An irrational religious bred belief would, for example, be to believe that a communion wafer and a thimble of wine literally transform into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. There is absolutely no evidence for this—or anything like it in all of reality—so if an atheist states Catholics who practice the ritual of Transubstantiation based Communion are being irrational—this is a factual observation, not an insult. Their religion is actively compelling them to act irrationally!

No need to get angry about it. Angry believers, however, immediately react by either claiming that’s just a Catholic tradition, or deflecting the criticism and calling the atheist irrational—as if to say, “I know I am, but what are you?”

Holy Communion is just one example of countless examples which show religion does, in point of fact, impede one’s rational processes and induces irrational behavior. Therefore it stems to reason that any given religious person will be more or less rational depending on the quality of beliefs they hold—and whether these beliefs are rational or not.

The question remains, however, are atheists more or less rational than religious believers? I would have to say yes, if only for the reason that we [atheists] don’t have weird beliefs causing us to believe in ludicrous things. But our overall thinking isn’t that much better. We are all, for the lack of a better analogy, running the same quality of operating systems. The person of faith’s IOS software isn’t that much different from the atheist’s Android software. Technically speaking, we can still all succumb to the same fatal flaws in mental processing, but it helps not to have strange beliefs embedded into the programming.

Luckily, the atheists I know tend to be the most rational and level headed thinkers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Even if it was true, and atheists had some forceful impediment affecting their rationality (which doesn’t seem likely), this assumption would fail to explain why so many rationalists, freethinkers, and educated scientists and philosophers evidently lack a belief in God and reject religious beliefs outright.


On Due Criticism
When I criticize Christianity—I know the position I am criticizing. In fact, if three decades of being a serious Christian wasn’t enough to qualify my opinion as educated on the subject I am discussing, I usually research it even further just to be sure to cover all of my bases. I don’t want to make the mistake of attacking the person and not the ideology.

Perhaps the most annoying trait of Christians is their hypersensitivity to perceived religious intolerance. I know what you’re thinking though, with all the religious intolerance in the world, it just doesn’t seem very decent to be complaining about others not being tolerant of religion—as if all religion was sacrosanct and so too equally worthy of our adoration.

Nearly every week, however, I am accused of “attacking” Christian’s cherished beliefs. Even as I go out of my way to be fair and give well reasoned explanations for my concerns. When I say it is a fact that prayer doesn't work, it's not intended to offend all those who still think prayer is a valid metaphysical form of transmitting their thoughts to God. It just happens to be the truth. Science has invalidated prayer beyond a shadow of doubt. You can't claim to believe in prayer and not expect someone to correct you unless, well, unless you really are under a delusion. 



I recently was told by a Christian on my FB page that, and I quote, “I find your comments offensive. Why do you always have to attack my faith? I don’t attack yours.”

The world Christians seem to be living in is a weird one. You can never disagree. If you do then you’re not a real Christian. If you point out their mistakes they accuse you of being offensive. If you show them facts which disprove their beliefs—instead of finding a better set of beliefs they instead accuse you of intolerance—as if their beliefs were somehow inviolable—and more often than not try to assault you verbally by doing the exact thing they (wrongly) accuse you of doing—insulting them. Strangely, however, if you lampoon religion, they will laugh along with you. Maybe, perhaps, they feel by lampooning religion that you’re not serious about the criticism—it’s all just in fun. I know it is a bit of a tangent, but I find it odd is all.


“Why do you feel you need to attack my beliefs, I don’t attack yours.”

The statement is peculiar. I have been thinking about this for some time, and such a statement is proof that the Christian not only is ignorant of their own position—since they cannot find any other words to defend their beliefs other than to claim the atheist is attacking them, only to follow it up by the claim they don’t attack the atheist’s beliefs.

It’s peculiar, because the Christian is assuming that if they weren’t such good Christians they would… what… attack the atheistic non-belief?

Think about this for a second—and let it sink in. How strange of a phrase is it to claim you’re being better than someone for simply refraining from attacking the things they don’t believe in? Bizzaro!

Imagine a food connoisseur saying to a food critic, “Why do you criticize my cherished food, I don’t criticize the food you don’t eat!”


The two things which stand out is that—1) a criticism of food (in this scenario) is not the same as a criticism of the person eating the food, and 2) it makes no sense to claim you are offended by the prior and then add the platitude that you don’t criticize the food your opponent doesn’t eat.

But this is the exact thing which Christians are doing whenever they state, “Why do feel you need to attack my beliefs, I don’t attack yours.”

Are Atheists Unfair or Utilitarian with their Criticisms of Religion?
Equally as strange is the question Christians never tire of asking. “Why do you only attack Christianity and not other religions as well?”

I usually post links on my personal Facebook page to interesting science articles or religious articles. Over the past month I have amped up my religious content merely because my humble blog has been garbing 2,000 hits a week. Last week on Friday I received 1,997 hits in just one day! Normally I post a link to my article or an interesting article I came across in my research. Most people tend to ignore them. Hardly any bother reading them. But a few, full of Christian compassion, take time out of their busy schedules to take offense, and like to ask why I harp on Christianity all the time and not other religions?

If they would only take the time to familiarize themselves with my writing, however, they would be quick to find that I also criticize Islam and Buddhism and all the silly supernatural beliefs in-between. As such, their question is merely a rhetorical form of whining. If not, then it’s a stupid question.

I could very well ask them why they are overly defensive of only the atheists who denounce Christianity but not the atheists who decry other unfamiliar religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, or Scientology.

Somehow I think the irony of the question would be lost on them. (Yeah, I know it's condescending to say so: but if a person understood the offense then they wouldn't likely make the stupid comment in the first place--so touche.)

Although I can’t speak for all atheists, the reason I criticize Christianity more than other religions is two fold. First off, it is the main world religion—and it has spawned the most branches—therefore it is the archetypal theology to examine. Attacking a Christian weakness or folly can often mean you are attacking a Islamic or Judaic weakness or folly. Since the three monotheisms share so much historical and theological traditions—there is a lot of overlap. I need not necessarily attack Islamic prayer over Christian prayer—because in my eyes the claim to be the one and the same. If not in practice then at least in philosophy.

Secondly, I was raised Christian, in a predominantly Christian country, and came out of Christianity. It’s what I know. In fairness, I try to criticize what I know and not what I don’t know. I can’t pretend to know all the world religions equally—so it would be unfair of me to speak on something I know nothing about. But the very fact Christians would ask such a question shows they really haven’t given any thought to other religions, or for that matter, not much regard either. Don’t attack my beliefs—attack theirs instead. Wouldn’t it be more proper to ask, why do you need to criticize religion at all?

Picking One's Battles
Just to clarify my position, I agree with the Nueroscientist Sam Harris when he states that he doesn’t blame all the bad acts of the religious on religion—just those acts done in the name of religion (whether or not that declaration is made) which have a detrimental effect on society and our well-being.

Granted, not all the world evils done by religious institutions are specifically because of religious ideals. Politics plays a large part as well as other mitigating factors. Religion is a complex set of ideologies revolving around a collective orthodoxy with a planetary doctrine and subsequent satellite sects, which often break off and take up orbit around the same core ideology. The larger the collective orthodoxy is the larger its mass will be, and the larger the dogmatic convictions.

If you have a Deathstar—taking out a few moons may demonstrate your power—but what you are really aiming for is a planetary system. In other words, when an atheist criticizes religion, they are aiming to take out Alderan not Endor. Likewise, when I criticize religion I focus on Christianity and not some obscure faith hardly anyone knows about (and that’s not to say my criticism wouldn’t be valid in both cases).

Last, but not least, I want to address why I feel it is necessary to criticize religion.

As I stated earlier, I understand that not every evil is directly the cause of religion. But the majority of my research has shown that religion is often a primary influence that habitually sponsors harmful beliefs and practices which in turn have a negative impact on society.

Recently a Christian asked me why I don’t attack Nazism with equal disdain and ridicule as I do religion. The question threw me for a loop—because I was like—wait a minute, the Nazis are back? When did this happen? No, I am afraid they too missed a very obvious point—Nazism, although not a completely forgotten political ideology, never-the-less, is hardly an active enough force to be concerned about. Sure, I could pick apart the flaws with the Neo-Nazi movement, as I could with any political ideology, but why bother? Unless it is the one which plays the biggest role in public policy and is the most influential—I would be wasting my breath. Christianity, on the other hand, does play the biggest role in public policy of all the religions, and it is, without a doubt, the most influential.

Usually the response I get to this is that Christianity is merely influencing people, but if they act badly their behavior and actions are the result of other influences too—not merely Christian ones. And this may be true, but it’s little difference as far as my criticism goes of the actively harmful elements of religious influence.

For example, when a religious believer reads their Holy book and the book, which is considered the word of God by the believer, states that homosexuality is vile and sinful, and therefore influences the believer to support an inhumane law which strips homosexuals of their civil liberties, how is this not a problem?

After all, people aren’t born homophobic. It’s an acquired attitude. Conservativism may help to maintain outmoded views and traditional opinions such as prejudice against race or sexual orientation, but Conservativism in and of itself doesn’t breed such things. So why is it usually only pockets of religionists who adhere to a misguided sense of legalism to interpret their religious texts which call for the unjust and unfair treatment of their fellow human beings? Why is it, for example, that the undemocratic Proposition 8 law which was designed specifically to deny homosexual the right to wed, not only brought about but also championed by religious groups wanting to preserve their conservative values?

This suggests to me that religion is specifically to blame in the unfair treatment of homosexuals, both in terms of the general attitude of the populace as well as public policy regarding the treatment of one minority segment of that populace. The connection is obvious: Christians have holy book: holy book is never wrong because it is God’s word: book says homosexuality is bad, bad, bad. Therefore Christians are taught to loathe homosexuality, not only because it is a sin, but because it is a sin which the Bible teaches one must seek to correct. If you cannot correct the sinner—then you are to, according to scripture, take them to the gates of the city and stone them to death.

Would policy makers even bother wasting their time on non-starters such as sexual orientation, an altogether private affair, if it wasn’t for the teachings of an outmoded Holy book which so many of the constituents seem unquestioningly revere? I somehow doubt it.

Pointing out that religion breeds homophobia in such and such a way is not to say all religious people actively despise gays. I am very careful not to make the mistake of confusing a sexist bigot who hates a gay—for no valid reason—from the ideology which teaches them this disdainful mentality. I am attacking the religious influence—although the person who blindly follows this influence unquestioningly, even when it is actively causing others harm, has my full contempt. But in my mind, religious people should know better. If they can’t see their religion is part of the problem, worse still, if they deny it—then they are only a part of the problem.

Every religious criticism I have made, as far as I am aware, has a very specific and direct link back to religious thinking and/or belief. Whether or not the sorts of beliefs and behavior I criticize reflects the beliefs and behavior of every sect of every believer within the folds of that particular religion I am not prepared to say. But such harmful religious influences do exist, and one would simply be naïve to deny it.

Get it? Got it? Good.
I am not simply randomly picking on Christianity to make Christians feel bad. I am criticizing religious modes of thought which directly contribute to generating disruptive or harmful attitudes and behavior. Christianity just so happens to be the religion I am most familiar with—so it is easier for me to deconstruct and trace back the origin of the influences—so my focus is on what I know. 



Even factoring in other external influences which compel people to act badly, it goes without saying, that if the religion didn’t teach contemptible things then the influence would be that much less. In the case of the lamentable situation with homosexuals being treated unfairly, or those whose churches tell them they can't partake in Interracial marriages/relationships, I would say that such attitudes and behavior would be almost non-existent if it wasn’t for the religious ideology keeping such things as sexism, racism, and anti-egalitarianism alive.


So do you really want to know why I feel I have the obligatory right to criticize people's cherished religious beliefs? That's why. 



Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist