Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Attack on religion?

I can't speak on behalf of all those who don't believe in a deity of the sort hypothesized in Abrahamic religions, so these comments necessarily only reflect on what I'm saying and doing and don't necessarily apply to anyone other than me.  So, with that disclaimer over, I've been informed recently by some folks that by being a vocal, "aggressive" atheist (instead of a "closet" atheist), I'm attacking the believers.  As I often like to do, let's begin with the dictionary.com definition of the verb "attack":

  1. to set upon in a forceful, violent, hostile, or aggressive way, with or without a weapon; begin fighting with
  2. to begin hostilities against; start an offensive against: to attack the enemy.
  3. to blame or abuse violently or bitterly.
  4. to direct unfavorable criticism against; criticize severely; argue with strongly
  5. to try to destroy, especially with verbal abuse

Let's consider these alternative definitions in order.

#1 - my criticisms of religious dogma certainly can be seen as forceful, distinctly not violent, not even hostile or threatening, definitely without a weapon (other than words), and my intention is not to stir up a fight, but rather to inform and perhaps to discuss topics in a forceful but not hostile way.  A believer recently asked me if I was truly seeking for truth, or was I simply aiming to contradict all religious teachings.  The answer is definitely a search for truth, but apparently for some believers, just to question religious teachings is to take a hostile stance.  Unfortunately, I can't control how some people react to a discussion where I might disagree with them on points of substance.  Does not a rational search for truth involve asking questions and trying to understand the putative answers using logic and empirical evidence?

#2 - my comments are not a provocation meant to begin hostilities, but certainly are aimed at representing my viewpoint, clarifying my position, and responding to criticisms from others.  I always try to avoid ad hominem responses.  In many cases, we end up simply agreeing to disagree, which to me is a satisfactory outcome.  Unfortunately, in some examples, my interlocutor indulges in ad hominem remarks (i.e., directed toward me or someone who believes as I do), which almost always will result in me responding in such a way as to terminate any discussion immediately, for my part.

#3 - in some cases, my critiques of religion attempt to establish a connection between religion and such negative things as sectarian violence, religious terrorism, and religion-inspired violence of all sorts.  I don't dispute that this can be seen as "blaming" religion - religion is inherently prone to stimulate extremist violence because of two primary enabling factors:  
  • religious believers often consider what they believe to be religious "truths" to be absolute truth, which strikes me as potentially dangerous to begin with, and
  • they conclude that their deity is sanctioning any means by which that truth can be advanced (e.g., by murdering unbelievers);  the allegedly "sacred" documents of all the abrahamic religions (i.e., christianity, islam, and judaism) do in fact call upon believers to perpetrate violence on those who would oppose them or violate their doctrine.
Based on this, I conclude that extremism in the name of religion is to be expected by the very nature of those beliefs.  Religion inevitably gives birth to extremists, who may be disavowed by most believers but who are definitely committing violence in the name of religion.  It would certainly be wrong to accuse all religious believers of extremism, but it seems evident to me that any religion (even the non-Abrahamic ones) can become the wellspring of religious violence.

On the other hand, atheism makes no claims to absolute truth and there are no sacred documents in atheism to cite that condone violence.  [Please don't bring up Communist atheism!]

#4 - this one I claim fully.  I'm criticizing religions unfavorably, especially the Abrahamic religions.  Can I not do so without being faulted simply for doing so?  What makes religion immune from criticism?  In a world of logic and evidence, there should be nothing that's above criticism.  I certainly make no such claim (i.e., to be above criticism) for myself, but if you're going to criticize me, let it be on on the basis of logic and evidence, not mythology, hearsay, and belief in the absence of evidence. 

#5 - If I ever thought I could destroy religion, I might wish to do so, since so much violence and obstruction of human goals has been done in the name of religion.  The simple fact is I'm not going to eradicate religion with my words, and I have no intention of trying to do so by violent actions.  Religion isn't going away just because I wish it would.

At the very best, I can hope perhaps to stimulate a few to think and act upon the questions they have in their minds about the propaganda they've been forced to absorb, perhaps eventually choosing to throw off the cloak of mythology and superstition in favor of a secular humanist worldview.  And I hope to offer some new insights to the discussion.

In conclusion, my criticisms can be interpreted as "attacks" in a limited way, but they do nothing to restrict the rights of anyone to believe as they choose.  If I'm mystified about how otherwise intelligent humans can embrace irrationality and illogic, that's my problem, not theirs.  My criticisms aren't "forcing" my beliefs on anyone.  Just don't force religious beliefs on me by imposing your dogma onto all us via governmental actions (like laws banning liquor sales on Sunday).  

You're welcome to try to persuade me I'm wrong, and if you can find convincing evidence, I'm willing to be persuaded.  Are you equally willing to be persuaded not to believe? 

1 comment:

Chuck Doswell said...


For many believers, it seems that any question or criticism regarding their religion is a personal attack on them. I suppose they've identified with their belief so thoroughly that an "attack" of the sort I've described is perceived as being aimed at them, rather than the religion. This conflation of the person with their beliefs might be seen by some as admirable, I suppose, but it leads directly to a flawed perception.

I respect anyone's right to believe whatever they want. I respect them as human beings, but I do not have to respect their beliefs. If that offends anyone, it's their problem, not mine.