Boy, someone’s gonna say I’m going soft on the theists…

Posted: October 30, 2009 in atheism, deconversion, ignorant stereotyping
Tags: , ,

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)

* atheists.

** 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.

  1. nameste says:

    Sendai, please consider some other way to denote footnote references. I can’t stay counting asterisks hard job anymore ;). “[number]” maybe?

  2. nameste says:

    Adult shmadult :) It would be much easier to read, and — oh. I can’t (seriously) comment on this blog (language deficiences), so I could at least read it without * counting (arithmetic deficiences). Plz, plz, plz.

    • Ah, OK, I didn’t think it was *that* annoying :)

      But, you can comment in any language you wan to, duh. Nie jest tak, ze ja tu czegokolwiek pilnuje, he he (przeciwnie – rasistowskich trolli nigdy nie skasuje, bo licze, ze ich szefowa – czarna zydowka lesbijka – wygoogla kiedys ich nicki i wypierdoli na zbity pysk), wiec jak masz cos do powiedzenia, to hulaj dusza smialo w jakimkolwiek jezyku Ci wygodnie.
      Odpowiem, jak dlugo ja rozumiem ten jezyk tez ;) (szanse ze rozumiem sa duze, heh heh heh #chwalesie)

      • Veln says:

        “rasistowskich trolli nigdy nie skasuje, bo licze, ze ich szefowa – czarna zydowka lesbijka – wygoogla kiedys ich nicki i wypierdoli na zbity pysk”

        No to jest jeden z lepszych argumentów za wolnością słowa jaki słyszałem w ostatnim czasie :-)

  3. Ausir says:

    Ta, znając Ciebie, to nawet jak nie znasz, to specjalnie się nauczysz.

    • Ile moze zdzialac lingwista ze slownikiem i jakim takim pojeciem o gramatyce? Duzo.

      Znam tez troche chinski!

      Mialabym problem faktycznie, jakby ktos wyskoczyl z hindi, tajskim albo tamilskim. Um.

  4. pillowscrapbook says:

    I sometimes joke that atheism is a religion as well, especially when I see such people, who with religious zeal try to convert others ;) they also, like religious fanatics feel that they have the monopoly for truth and that they know what is the best way to live for everyone. Atheism sometimes becomes a club for adults, who have low self-esteem and need to belong to a group.So they choose the group that they feel elevates them, by choosing atheism they feel they belong to the intellectual elite. But as being gay doesn’t instantly make you thoughtful and tolerant, neither does being an atheist make you intelligent.

    • I don’t have problems with “converting” others (apart from laziness and none-of-my-business ;)), but the “zomg religion will destroy us all!1!!!!!!” moral panic stuff just… Well, just WTF WTF WTF?
      I got nothin’

      • pillowscrapbook says:

        I have the problem with the “i know what’s good for everyone” attitude :)

        plus atheism, when it gets state support like in the communist countries can be as harmful as religion. I think we (people) will destroy us all, because of our tendency to violence, and usually any ideology is a good enough excuse :/

  5. pillowscrapbook :

    I have the problem with the “i know what’s good for everyone” attitude :)

    plus atheism, when it gets state support like in the communist countries can be as harmful as religion. I think we (people) will destroy us all, because of our tendency to violence, and usually any ideology is a good enough excuse :/

    Yes, that. Only, they were worshipping dictators instead of baby Jesus, so I don’t really think the analogy is entirely correct. Also, people were forced to be “atheist”, which is a non-atheist idea in the first place.

    Sure, there are some harmful things that happen only with a religion present, but for shaaame. I’m actually sort of irritated, because for once I tried to discuss it like an adult person, instead of just laughing my arse off (wellll, it’s been known to happen), and I asked her actual serious questions. The only thing she said in response was basically “Think critically! And swallow thoughtlessly all the fear-mongering I sell n__n”
    Well… I just… BLARGH.

  6. […] 1. Click! My post about deconversion and proselytizing in atheism. […]

  7. pillowscrapbook says:

    i think that when a government incorporates a doctrine into its politics it is only done to be able to arrest, shoot or discredit someone, because you can always accuse them of not following the said doctrine aka an easy excuse to get rid of political enemies.

    I do not know, whether there was any evil that happened especially due to Atheism, but there were definitely evils that came from blind belief in the omnipotence of science. Like eugenics for example, which was developed as a sleek intellectual concept and was strongly supported by the feminists before the WWII.
    Atheism is a set of very good ideas in my opinion, but i believe that it can be as easily twisted to become an oppressive caricature of itself as any other concept. and this Sarah person just seems to have this simple fanatic flavour that disturbs me, she is only critical about the things she doesn’t like.

    ps. I think that you are always discussing things like an adult. you always apply logic to your arguments and the emotions just spice up your language :)

    • Well, duh. 1. You can ruin everything of course, 2) the powerful group will do anything to stay in power. Thank Darwin we’re a minority =_=

      Um. I don’t really know anything about the history of eugenics, so I don’t really feel comfortable commenting >.>

      Nah, I mostly just make fun of people who makes themselves into easy targets. My favourite scenario is where I don’t really have to say anything, because they make themselves ridiculous enough all by themselves. Heh.
      But damn, I asked her why she thinks religion will destroy us, zomg, and all she ever answered is “U COWARD”, and “U NEWBIE”. Um. Um. I’ll just say, if I were a theist, I’d probably wouldn’t be convinced at all =_=;;;;;

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