Category Archives: Religion

“Why is atheist activism ok if religious evangelism isn’t?”

My best friend, who’s a Christian in the loosest, most progressive sense of the term, asked me that question last night. I didn’t have an answer, and it really threw me. Was the movement I’ve come to care so much about doing the same thing as the evangelicals I can’t stand?
After a lot of thought, I came to a conclusion: No, it’s not. Atheist activism is propelled (or should be propelled) by the desire to better the world. Just as the feminists, gay rights, and neurodiversity movements want equality for all, so do we. We see a culture that rejects and suppresses the rights of minorities, that rejects and suppresses science, and we want to change it. We want to changes the attitudes that create this culture of suppression and inequality, and in order to change those attitudes, we need to change the beliefs that support them.
If all religious people were like my friend – if they accepted and supported science, believed that women should have a right to decide what happens to their bodies, that marriage should be between whoever wants to get married, that church and state should be kept separate – in short, if they truly supported good science and equality for all – then I would have no issue with religion. If all religious people shifted over to the type of religiousity as my friend, I’d call it good enough and be done with it.
But the fact is that many religious people don’t believe those things, and those people are, by far, the most vocal of the religious. The progressive believers should stand up to them and tell them that religion isn’t an acceptable reason to deny people rights, but they aren’t. And since they won’t, atheists have to.
We want equal rights for all. We want people to be taught fact, not fiction, and be able to make informed choices. And if religion is the reason people give for not wanting the same, religion needs to go. If we loosed people from the bonds of religion, the majority of them would probably come to the conclusion that equality and information for all is a good thing. Sure, we’d still get some anti-science bigots, but they wouldn’t have the special exemption from criticism that religion affords, and we’d be able to improve the world. And that’s what I’m fighting for: a world where there will be no acceptable excuses to deny people their rights.

Faith Is Not A Virtue Part III: Fear

My last two posts have discussed why people have faith: lack of scientific understanding, and lack of reasoning skills. Today’s reason, however, is probably the most common reason people have faith: fear.

FEAR:

Fear is one of the most powerful motivators humans experience. Fear is supposed to protect us physically – we will do almost anything to avoid pain, because pain means death, and death means no gene replication. Fear also acts as a social constraint. Most of us fear being ostracized, because humans have evolved to live in social groups. Social groups increase our odds of survival and procreation, so ostracization is interpreted as a physical threat.

Religion makes excellent use of fear to replicate itself in two ways: explicit fear of hell, and implicit fear of being ostracized if you renounce your beliefs. Read the rest of this entry

Faith Is Not A Virtue Part II: Reason

So yesterday I talked about reasons people hang on to faith. I started with the reason of poor scientific education. Today, it’s time for reason number two:

LACK OF REASONING SKILLS

Like I said yesterday, critical thinking is not generally the natural way our mind works. When we’re trained in the scientific method, however, critical thinking becomes easier. It becomes habit to evaluate ideas based on their objective merit. Asking questions becomes a good thing. Asking for evidence becomes default, and saying “I don’t know” becomes acceptable. Even if the idea in question is religion.

If you don’t know how to think critically, accepting the contradictory claims of the bible (or any other holy book or religion) is much easier. “Because I said so” becomes a valid answer. If the information is from someone sufficiently powerful, it is accepted. An example:

God exists. Why? Because the Bible said so. Why is the Bible a reputable source? Because my parents, my pastor, my teachers told me. Why should I believe them? Because I trust them. Bam. End of discussion.

The key here, of course, is stomping out the urge to ask why before we get too old. Any 6-year-old could disprove the existence of god if we would just answer the damn questions. Asking why is natural, but so is trusting people. If children didn’t trust and believe their parents, we’d have died out by now. And so skepticism dies by the hand of safety.

If you can revive that skepticism, though, fallacies become obvious. The bible says god is love, but he commanded his people to commit genocide and mass rape when the Israelites invaded Canaan. He is compassionate, but he commanded his people to bash babies’ heads against rocks. And when they didn’t kill everything, he was pissed. But that’s not even the biggest problem! If god is perfect, why did he make something that was capable of fucking itself over so badly? Why did he give Adam and Eve the capability to sin? If he’s omnipotent, why wasn’t there a less horrific solution to the problem of sin than to have billions of people (and guiltless animals) suffer and die and go to hell? Why did he have to send his son/himself to suffer horribly and die (temporarily) and then leave no evidence behind? In short, what kind of sick fuck is god? Better question: Why the hell would you want to worship this psychopath?

Oh yeah, that’s right: If you don’t, you go to hell. Yep, god is most certainly love.

TOMORROW: Faith Is Not A Virtue Part III: Fear

Faith Is Not A Virtue Part I: Education

I was raised in an evangelical Christian family, sent to evangelical Christian schools (complete with daily bible classes and shitty science classes), and heavily involved with my evangelical Christian mega-church. Again and again I heard the explicit message “faith is a virtue,” which contains the implicit message “critical thinking is bad.” Obviously I ended up doing some bad shit, cuz, well, I’m now an atheist.

But I still hear the “faith is a virtue” argument from the religious people in my life when we discuss how untenable their beliefs are. My best friend is smart, very good at critical thinking, and has a degree in anthropology with a focus in archaeology. She understands evolution much better than I do, completely accepts it as fact, and yet for a long time she has wavered, torn between what she knew and what she had been taught while being raised a Christian. She has doubts about the bible and how all the bad things and the good things could be reconciled, and how the bible and science matched up. But, up until very recently, she chose to believe. Why? Because of her “personal relationship.” Because she didn’t want to give up her faith. Because faith is good.

Bullshit. Faith is not a virtue; faith is a weakness. I’d say I’m sorry for putting it so bluntly, but I’m not, so I’m not going to lie about it. Faith is unwavering adherence to an idea despite the dearth of supporting evidence. Or, to put it another way, faith is unwavering denial of evidence that refutes an idea. Faith is a blindfold that you cheerily put on right before you walk into the traffic of reality. Faith is socially accepted gullibility. And faith is something we’re supposed to idealize? Why would anyone fall for that?

Well, any combination of three reasons: lack of education, lack of reason, or fear. Read the rest of this entry