Recently, I’ve come across a post about trying to deconvert theists. The author, Sarah Braasch, argues we* should try to actively deconvert as many theists as possible, because religion is evil, and the more powerful it is, the more evil and potentially dangerous it becomes. She also relates how she tried to deconvert a young Muslim girl, Amina**.
The thing is, according to Sarah, Amina is a modern, progressive, happy girl anyway. Why bother deconverting her when she’s not harmed by her belief, and isn’t hurting anyone else with it? I mean, sure, she believes that she’s got an invisible friend in heaven. But so what? Why should I care?
Well, Sarah says:
I believe that if we do not destroy it (religion – Sara), it will destroy us.
Um. I think there’s very little evidence supporting this rather bold claim.
Also, further Sarah states that:
She (the girl Sarah tried to deconvert – Sara) supports women’s rights, but she feels the possible ban in France as an attack on her religion and her culture. She doesn’t want to think about Islam as inherently misogynistic.
Um. I would say that she is actually right. The ban on burkas is an attack on Islam. Why else would anybody care about other people’s fashion choices? And Islam is not inherently misogynistic. Very few religions are inherently something***. Religions are something that can, or even has to be interpreted. Holy books and exegeses of holy books are texts that are often very contradictory and incoherent. Usually it is impossible to produce a correct literal interpretation; the Bible, for instance, has two versions of something as important as the creation myth. You simply have to pick and choose to have a more or less coherent vision of what your religion is for you. Not picking and choosing is completely impossible; case in point the stance of fundamentalist Christians on homosexuality****. So you can’t say that any religion is inherently this and that, because it’s empirically not true.
(Also, please note that I have a strong dislike for essentialism)
(Also, please note that this is exactly what theists do when they say “my religion is better, and my god is love, and also, atheists eat babies, because atheism is inherently evil”. Should we be really copying that sort of convoluted religious logic?)
Furthermore, what causes some people to pick more enlightened versions of their religion, and others to choose the more “fundamentalist”, or more correctly, the more oppressive ones, is the environment that people grow up in. It stands to reason that a religious person from a western country will go for a more liberal version of their religion, and an uneducated Pakistani peasant will go for the version of religion that is most compatible with their still semi-tribal non-urban culture. This is all. There is no “inherently” whatever message in any of those versions of their respective religions. Statistically, the difference between a frothing fundie and a normal religious person is their cultural environment. Otherwise, how would you explain some Muslim people “going liberal” when influenced by secular education? How do you explain the very existence of the awesomeness that is Muslimah Media Watch?
(This doesn’t mean people don’t change their minds. They do. But you usually learn about things that are wrong and right from your parents, first, even before you start reading religious texts)
(What’s more, most people’s ideas about most crucial points of their religions stand in conflict with official theology anyway – see Boyer Pascal, Religion Explained)
I also commented along similar lines, and frankly, I have to say, I’m less than impressed with Sarah’s answer:
I say — I’d really like to at least try to eradicate religion. Give ourselves a fighting chance. I really do think religion may very well be the cause of our demise as a species. It’s that serious. Religion is that divisive. Religion is that destructive.
It allows an individual or a group to justify any action, without evidence, no matter how devastating that action might be to the well being of one or many or all, and it demands reverence and obedience without question. Without even doubt. That is a recipe for disaster. We can only be better off without it.
Holy fear-mongering, Batman! Also, this is essentialism, pure and simple. Just because you’re not religious doesn’t mean you can’t find excuses for doing evil things, and just because you’re an atheist, and reject one system of irrational beliefs doesn’t mean you’re more rational about everything else at all (Bill Maher, anyone?). There’s no way this is how things work.
And, Sara (that was me – Sara: and by the way, this isn’t what I said at all, I said we shouldn’t be attacking religious dogma. I think this makes for very weak arguments, anyway, so let’s better maybe talk about facts) also said we should attack religion’s privileged place in public discourse, but not necessarily religion itself.
Exactly. But, that’s the problem isn’t it?
Attacking religion’s privileged position is attacking religion. It is attacking religious dogma. Religion’s privileged position in the public discourse is its raison-d’etre. That’s what dogma is. A belief that may not be challenged.
Educating people about something that is contrary to their religious dogma is attacking religious dogma.
Only, there are lots of religions that can actually peacefully coexist with other religions, and even atheists. Hardly any religion’s dogma says explicitly that the religion deserves a privileged position in the public discourse. This is usually not the part of the dogma, this is part of religious guild’s power play. This is what happens when a the religious industry is fighting for the monopoly on the religious market. And there exist markets where the monopoly is generally an unwelcome or unneeded idea, with people believing in more than one religion (some parts of Indonesia), or people taking part in rituals and ceremonies in more than one religion, and ultimately identifying as atheists anyway (Japan).
Which brings me back to my original point, which is, I don’t think we should actively seek to destroy religion of people who aren’t doing anything wrong apart from lying to themselves. I mean, personally I’m far too lazy to actively seek out to destroy anybody’s religion, anyway. But I would point out to an ignorant sexist/homophobic/creationist fundie “loook! You might be doing something wrooo-ong, heh heh heh” or “oh reeeeeeeeally, is that seriously what you think your holy book says?”, because it’s the right thing to do. It spreads the doubts. I would also correct anybody who would harp on about “atheism is immoral zomg”. But I’m not bloody going to go after people who aren’t doing anything wrong at all, apart from lying to themselves.
(Also: think about it that way: we* are the oppressed minority in this discourse. We can’t spend all our resources on trying to explain to everybody that they are wrong. It’s only pragmatic that we would need priorities)
(Also: I seriously think it’s none of my business what people believe in. I have theist friends******. Or at least, I suppose I do, based on statistics; the point is, we don’t really talk about it. It’s their private business what they want to do in their free time. I’ve never asked anybody about what religion or other they believe in, just as I don’t usually ask people about their sex lives*******. Private is private is private is private is private)
** I’d like to say straight out that I find her argument (Jesus = typical Sun god, therefore, your religion is false) very weak. Amina could have easily defended Jesus with “BUT HE’S JUST A METAPOHOR” or something like that.
*** Personally, I think the religions that come closest to being evil are Scientology and Mormonism.
**** Gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay*****.
***** Remember, kids: every time you say “gay”, a fundie theist froths at the mouth. Say “gay” for Darwin! And funny mental image of 15 fundie theists frothing at the mouth!
****** Heh heh heh.
******* And yet, much as it with religion, some people tell anyway.
We were not amused.