Archive for October 19th, 2010

re-li-gion [riˈlijən]
noun: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods

From a Roman Catholic priest dripping water on my tiny brow as an infant, to the forced placing of tabs of LDS on my pre-teen tongue, to Jehova’s Witnesses disturbing afternoon delight sessions and beyond, attempts to shove religion down my throat have come often in my life. Thanks to a rather thick skin, an agile mind and a father who found it all more than a bit ridiculous, I managed to get by without swallowing the Kool-Aid, no matter what the flavor.

I don’t simply consider myself non-religious, but anti, and as any student of just about any bit of history can account, there’s good reason to take aim at the faithful when accepting blame for horrors is the target. (Check out the data here for a look at the part religion had played in genocides in just the last 60 years.)

Yesterday’s post addressed issues of religion-inspired hatred and its present-day deadly impact on people who happen to love folks with similar equipment and provided some insights from really smart guy Frans de Waal that, alongside discussions happening in my world these days, have me thinking about what might be the reverse of “religion”.

Of course, the religious would suggest words like ‘evil’, or ‘infidel’, or ‘unsaved’, or ‘headed for hell on a rail’, or simply ‘damned’, while others might put forth ‘atheist’ or ‘secularist’ to fill in the posed blank.

Dr. de Waal proposes that the possibility of a blank at all is not likely:

Any framework we develop to advocate a certain moral outlook is bound to produce its own list of principles, its own prophets, and attract its own devoted followers, so that it will soon look like any old religion.

As often happens when I’m seeking info, it presents, as it does today in this article in the Huff Post that echos the good doctor’s thoughts without meaning to.

The author, Chris Stedman is a self-proclaimed “atheist promoting religious tolerance and interfaith work” … a designation I find confusing.

His take seems to be that atheists are somehow bound to spend time and energy trying to talk people down from their religious … what? … perch? … pedestal? … pulpit? … whatever … and convert them to atheism.

Sure, there is Richard Dawkins, vociferous and strident and poster child for what Stedman … and others … refer to as “Evangelical Atheism”, but compare the number of Dawkins in the world with the legions of bishops, elders, imams, priests, missionaries and others proselytizing the length and breadth of Planet Earth and you can’t help but come back with the idea that touting un-touting is a rather lonely endeavor.

Stedman says otherwise, but without attribution, so I’m not sure where this comes from:

When a large and vocal number of atheists say that their number one goal is convincing people to abandon their faith, it comes as no surprise that our community is construed as extreme and aggressive.

Personally, I’m a big fan of going toe-to-toe with those carrying the cross of luring people to accept Jesus Christ as their personal trainer … or whatever … as both the arrogance and the dangers involved in doing that just piss me off. This has much to do with recent events that have me drawing a line in the sand and trying on the idea of fighting intolerance with intolerance, being a bit frustrated with all the other cheek turning us non-believers are famous for. Being “construed as extreme and aggressive” actually sounds okay to me. After all, if you wanna end war and stuff, ya gotta sing loud.

Which brings me back to the Stedman piece:

“I may lose all of my credibility for saying this,” I said with a chuckle, “but I have zero interest in talking people out of their religious beliefs. The only religious beliefs I take issue with are ones that infringe on individual freedoms — for example, when someone’s religious belief informs their conviction that I, as a queer person, should not be free to marry whoever I choose. But their belief in God, when it does not contribute to actions that inhibit my liberty, is of no concern to me.”


Who gives a flying fuck what someone else holds dear as a belief? I couldn’t care less if folks think dancing naked around a pile of mangos will assure them of fruit in the afterlife … if wishing upon a star will grow them wings … if imagining a bit of stale bread to be some dead guy’s skin … go for it! Think of something wacky and live your life according to your wackiness. Just don’t screw around with anyone else’s whack unless you’re invited … and it’s a party … and your own doesn’t depend on getting theirs to match yours. Oh … and you’re not making a few bucks out of the deal.

Where Stedman loses me, however, is where he approaches that line Dr. de Waal so aptly defined … where what results comes out looking “like any old religion” … in other words, here:

It’s just a hypothesis, but I wonder if fewer nonreligious people would actively try to dismantle religious communities if we had a more coherent community of our own. Perhaps if we spend less energy negatively “evangelizing,” we’ll find ourselves well positioned to reach out in ways that build bridges instead of tearing them down.

He suggests reaching out to religious liberals and moderates in efforts to work together, an idea that feels like missing the point.

For starters, where’s the common ground between people who believe that the world began 6,000 years ago in the Garden of Eden and those who know that’s just stupid? Okay … maybe those people aren’t religious liberals. Maybe moderates understand the science behind geology and astronomy and evolution and have somehow modified their take on just how literally the bible should be interpreted, and if that’s the case, what is there to talk about?

If one side of the table sees homosexuality as evil incarnate and the other side is gay, where’s the starting point for discussion? If the religious group has no problem with what and who the gay group does in the privacy of their own pants, what’s the issue?

Religious liberals and moderates who keep their thoughts to themselves, support the rights of others, care for their kids and don’t kick the dog are pretty much like the average, everyday secularist, so the only reason I can see for trying to get some sort of coalition going might be called politics. I’m okay with that, but it also misses the point.

“Active dismantling” is appropriate when the fact is that religious fuckwads go out of their way to ram their warped agenda down and around the necks of any- and everyone. Their methods range from the devious — It’s our duty to save you from damnation — to the militant — God hates fags! — and pervasive. They’re also panicked by the idea that people may begin thinking for themselves, so bloody aggressive in their manipulation of hearts and minds.

Here’s a disgusting example of that manipulation … a video sent by a church to junior high kids to get them to save the souls of their classmates:

Shocked? Revolted? Horrified by the minds that would put that together for CHILDREN? Deeply concerned about the kids who had that dumped upon them? I certainly hope so …

When was the last time you had a secular humanist or atheist even so much as knock on your door to tell you you’re doomed, doomed, I say! (Or even: You’re an idiot.) … please read this pamphlet? That happens like almost never … and when it does, it’s only to make a point … like the guys in this video.

There’s also the issue of smarts. Anyone who actually believes the bullshit fed to them by any religion insisting that they own the rights to all right, that every other idea that can occur to anyone is not only wrong, but inherently evil, has to be either dumb as a shovel or capable of a disconnect to rival Sybil and therefore not a good candidate for any position that could make any difference to anyone under any circumstance.

Building bridges can be a nobel undertaking, but not always possible. When the divide is so wide the other side can’t even be imagined, much less seen, it’s often better to mind the gap. Of course, if the other side starts lobbing grenades, throw ’em back!


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