Why a non-believer cares about talking about religion

I’m a very passionate atheist, I love to have discussions about religion with anyone I can and I try to study different aspects of religion. I have friends that are like minded, but they don’t understand why I care about talking about atheism and religion. They say things like, “Why can’t you just be an atheist and leave it at that? Why can’t you let people who believe be?”

This is usually a hard question to answer because people think I’m being intrusive and disrespectful by questioning people’s beliefs, we’ve always been taught in our culture that religion is sacred and personal so we shouldn’t question it. I think one of the best ways that sums up why I think it’s silly to not question religion is this quote by Douglas Adams taken from a speech he gave in 1998:

Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? — because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. 

The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.

It’s rather like, if you think back in terms of animal evolution, an animal that’s grown an incredible carapace around it, such as a tortoise—that’s a great survival strategy because nothing can get through it; or maybe like a poisonous fish that nothing will come close to, which therefore thrives by keeping away any challenges to what it is it is. In the case of an idea, if we think ‘Here is an idea that is protected by holiness or sanctity’, what does it mean? Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows, but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe, no, that’s holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we’ve just got used to doing so? There’s no other reason at all, it’s just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going it’s very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.

Just like he said, if one rationally looks at religion there’s no reason it shouldn’t be questioned like other things in our society are. In my opinion religion should be scrutinized more than it already is. Many generally think of religion as relatively harmless and in some cases very helpful in people’s lives, and I do admit religious people and religious institutions do have some positive functions within society but I’d also like to say that those same functions could be done in secular ways as well. I strongly believe that the negative aspects of religion outweigh the positive aspects. In general, religion such as Christianity discourages critical thinking. Followers are told not to question because even that is a sin, or are told lies about science, or learn to blindly follow authority figures. Many will wrap themselves up in the warm comfy blanket of apologetics filled with confirmation bias, circular reasoning, and word games and are reassured that their faith is solid by shutting out the rest of the world and reason. These people aren’t a tiny minority, they do have influence. They are voters, or even elected officials. There are elected officials in the United States that are creationists, just think about that. There are people that have power in this country that refuse to try to understand basic middle school science and rely on a fairy tale. That is scary to me. How can a politician use sound reasoning making a decision related to health care if they strongly believe in the power of prayer working just as well or better than going to a doctor? Or what kind of decision they would make related to the environment if they refuse to look into what scientists say about climate change because their church leaders told them to distrust scientists?

This is just touching the surface of why I am so passionate about religion. Thanks for reading!

 

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