The Anti-Religion Religion
Dec. 19th, 2008 @ 09:39 am
I was chatting with someone today about how they were "hostile toward religion"... or atheistic, loosely translated. What they (and most people that subscribe to this...perspective...) didn't seem to understand is that they are, in fact, religious... just in a non-traditional way.
How can you be religious when you're against religion? Pretty easily, actually... but we have to be clear about what we define as "religion". From my perspective, I don't define religion as a belief in God or Gods. Rather, I consider it a viewpoint, perspective, or belief that is self reinforcing, self purpetuating, is not founded on demonstratable or provable fact, and is to the immediate discredit of all other beliefs, perspectives, or religions.
Can it be proven, demonstrated, or factually verified?
Does it demand that you think, act, or behave in a certain way?
Does it believe that all others are wrong?
Does it believe that if everyone believed it, the world would be better?
Does it encourage you to encourage others to believe as you do?
Does it maintain a specific viewpoint around a deity and/or afterlife?
If you answered yes to all of the above questions, contratulations... you have yourself a religion.
...but you don't go to church? Doesn't matter... but if you adamantly believe that church is an absolute waste of time, god isn't there, there is no god, you're all fucknuts... you're still religious.
The truth is that, as much as religion can't be proven, we also cannot prove that it is wrong. We have no means of saying for certainty that there is not a god. A lot of athiests will say that because the religious can't prove that there is a god, they must be wrong... but that isn't enough to justify disbelief... you must actively prove that there is NOT a god for you to be correct... and currently, that's impossible.
The real problem I see is the idea that everyone else is wrong and must be corrected or fixed. As long as this exists, there will always be people trying to do the fixing, and people fighting to NOT be fixed. Every war, fight, or disagreement we've had hasn't really been about the beliefs... it was about this simple fact: one person thought they were so right that they either needed to make others believe them or erradicate those that did not. Athiesm is no different in this perspective than any other religion.
The most important thing we can possibly do is to acknowledge that we ALL have a right to freedom of thought... to believe whatever we want to believe, whether we can prove it or not... and though debate should be allowed, we ultimately have to agree to disagree at times... because to remove someone else's right to make that decision for themselves... and to not have an opinion thrust upon them... is to do the exact same thing to ourselves. If you can force your opinion on someone else, someone else can force it upon you just as much.
The right to believe in something is much more important than the belief itself.
There is a difference between believing something completely and operating as if that thing is true until proven otherwise. There are many, myself included, who are the kind of atheist who believe that without any evidence for the existence of god, we might as well live as if there wasn't one. I can't say for sure if there is or isn't a god, or many of them for that matter. But from what I can see, there either isn't a god, or if there is she has gone to such great lengths to hide her existence that we should probably play along with the ruse. Either way, I think it's best for me to live as if there's no god that expects anything of me or I should expect anything of.
You probably remember my post of a few years back where I said that the dirty secret of religion is that everyone thinks anyone who believes differently from how they do is crazy. The main problem I have with religion is I think religious people are just fucking nuts. And they likely think the same of me.
It's fine to say that everyone should be able to believe whatever they want. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't challenge people's beliefs when we think they are wrong. The great thing about science is you can prove things to be true, so we don't have to rely on belief. But religion, superstition and other forms of magical thought can't prove anything. That's not to say they can't add value to people's lives, but whether they do is so unreliable as to be effectively random. And so all you can do is believe.
I do not know you, and certainly don't mean to offend. A couple of provisos: I'm not what most would consider staunchly religious, thought I was born Jewish, raised Christian (of various sects) and chose paganism. I do, however, believe in a higher power. I don't try to proselytize, though I enjoy a healthy debate as to the nature (or existence) of God. Your choice to believe that God does not exist (or does, but wants us to act as if She doesn't) is perfectly valid and I would fight others in the name of its Truth for you. However, what kuteluvr
is saying, is not that it is or is not okay to have such a debate, I think, but rather that it is not NECESSARY to have that debate. While I enjoy having such a conversation, I would never force someone on it, nor would I try to convince someone I'm right in any way other than trying to fully express my beliefs and any reasons for them.
So, Chris, kudos for the post. I agree with your conclusions, whether or not I agree with your religious precepts.
I think timenchanter
gets my point reasonably well when he says "I would fight others in the name of its Truth for you." because that's really what I'm hitting at.
What I find frustrating is really highlighted by your statement "...challenge people's beliefs when we think they are wrong." What is frustrating and causes so much difficulty is that sense of entitlement... "I think your beliefs are fucked up, so I'm going to fix you, whether you want me to or not."
I'm not saying we shouldn't have debate... but we should have it with people that are actually interested in having the debate. If I don't want or buy into your beliefs, I shouldn't have them crammed down my throat... and if I think you're off your rocker, that doesn't entitle me to force my beliefs down yours.
At some point we need to understand that even if we can't understand where each other are coming from in our belief system, they are entitled to believe it... whether we agree with them or not. It is just as much their right to believe what they want as it is your right to believe in what you want.
Where we see problems... fights... picketing... oppression... war... is when we take our belief and we "challenge" those beliefs because we think they're wrong.... when we take it upon ourselves to decide for someone else that they need to believe something different because we're right.
I 100% believe in your right to think religious people are nuts... and I 100% agree with their right to think you're going to hell (or wherever). What I don't agree with is the idea that either one of you has the right to force your opinion on the other without direct invitation.
I mean... if someone says "I don't understand your religion... can you please explain it to me?" then it's open season... but until that point, I wish we could all just agree to disagree and let it be done.
Hmmm. If you saw someone playing in traffic because they believed that cars were big, friendly animals that wanted to play with them and would never hurt them, would you let that person continue to do that, or would you try to explain how stupid they were being and how to avoid getting killed in traffic? I'm fine with letting people believe whatever they want to believe in the privacy of their own brains, but when they start acting on irrational beliefs in a way that could hurt themselves or others, then it's time to speak up.
I also think your perspective that all belief systems are equally valid is a bit weird. I mean, I'm all for freedom of thought (and how can you force someone to believe something they don't want to believe just by arguing with them anyway?), but where do you draw the line? Should cultists be allowed to engage in mass suicide events because they believe that's what god wants them to do? Should be be allowed to murder their children too? Obviously these are absurd questions, but if it's a matter of degree, how far do you go before things become absurd?
That's what I was talking about when I said we should challenge beliefs, but I can see how I didn't articulate that well. I should stop commenting late at night!
I think there are some distinctions between a religious belief and psychosis. Cars as big friend animals is either clinically insane or some REALLY good drugs. Intervention in that situation is probably a good idea.
Re: cultists... my answer would be... maybe... but probably not. I think the drawing line is (and would probably be from a medical perspective as well) whether or not someone is causing themselves irreparable physical harm. In that situation, intervention is fine.
I disagree with the murdering children... but for the sole reason that killing the kids prevents the kids from being able to make their own decisions about religion or life. (this goes into the whole abortion debate, which I'm too conflicted about my own views to really discuss.)
...but if someone believes they should give 10% of their earnings to the church... even if it will break them... should we stop them? I don't think so... that's their decision.
I think my viewpoint is ultimately libertarian in nature... I think everyone should be able to do whatever they want, so long as it doesn't preclude someone else from doing what they want too. This is where my view on religion and atheism come into play... religious zealots (and atheistic zelots) demand that everyone must believe what they believe... and I believe that's wrong. Confronting someone because of their views when A) they're not asking you to, B) they're not doing anything to you because of those views, and C) they're not causing themselves or anyone else physical harm... is what I'm talking about here.
I think there are some distinctions between a religious belief and psychosis.
The primary distinction is that religion is taught, not the result of some brain abnormality or trauma. But it still results in some pretty irrational behavior. However you're missing my point.I think everyone should be able to do whatever they want, so long as it doesn't preclude someone else from doing what they want too.
"One man's right to swing his fist ends where another man's nose begins."
If someone's religion says slavery is OK, should we be fine with that? What about if their religion says two men can't marry each other? The point I keep making that you keep avoiding is that it's hard to tell where to draw the line. Your original post was pretty much a blanket statement that we should let people believe whatever they want. You've now updated that to say you can confront someone if their actions
cause problems, which is what I said in my previous comment, so I think we're in agreement there. I think where we may differ is how to confront them. I don't know what you think would be appropriate.
By the way, how do you feel about the common practice of circumcision? I think it's pretty awful that infant boys are circumcised, especially for religious reasons.
Yeah... like I said... I'm pretty directly into the libertarian point of view. :)
Slavery is wrong because it removes freedom/liberty/rights from someone else. *MY* religion saying *YOU* can't get married is also wrong. I also believe that Mormons should be able to practice polygamy (though not forced as FLDS frequently does it). If someone wants to marry a dog, I think that's their right.
My perspective is pretty consistent here... a few years ago there was a news article about someone volunteering to be eaten by someone practicing cannibalism. They volunteered, followed through, and were eaten... perfectly willingly. I think this is disgusting, but I don't think it's wrong. I also think assisted suicide should be legal. I'm not saying I'm going to volunteer... and I'm not saying I agree with those that do... but I don't think it's my right to take away their right to make that decision.
I said before that I can frequently feel conflicted about abortion falls to the circumcision argument also... really anything with children does... because the children are incapable of choosing or defending a choice... but my default is almost always to the parent's decision. If they choose to circumsize their kid or have an abortion, is it my responsibility or even right to tell them they're wrong?
...but in your example, if we remove the "infant boys" point and make it a legal, consenting, informed adult that has joined the Jewish faith and now wants to be circumsized... should we have him committed because of his decision?
Wow. I think there is a huge difference between assisted suicide for terminally ill people and a healthy person volunteering to be cannibalized. I do think that is wrong - setting aside matters of moral absolutes, in our society it is a sign of a serious mental illness, and mentally ill people are not competent to make those kinds of decisions for themselves.
Anyway, you say it's wrong for someone's religion to restrict someone else's freedoms. How do you deal with those conflicting beliefs? Those sorts of disagreements have a history of becoming violent, and we've seen plenty of wars caused by such. Instead of letting things build to that point, wouldn't it be better to engage in an open conversation about beliefs and values, rather than avoid that kind of "confrontation" because you don't want to seem intolerant? You can talk about this stuff without forcing anyone to believe anything. And if you are firm in your beliefs, why not have to defend them now and then? If just talking about them is such a threat to them, maybe you don't have such a great belief system after all.
I also want to mention education. Look at the fighting over the teaching of evolution vs creationism. If ignorant parents insist their children be taught superstition rather than science, those children are likely to continue that cycle. Shouldn't those children be entitled to learn about their world in a way that won't damage them, and potentially their own children as well? If mutilating a defenseless child is wrong, isn't it also wrong to impede a child's mental or emotional development?
I know all of this can be interpreted in different ways depending on your perspective and beliefs, so it's hard to have a meta-conversation about perspective and beliefs. I think you started all this by stating a piece of your own belief system, which included the inviolability of that very belief system by virtue of the belief that it's wrong to challenge anyone else's beliefs. Nicely done. But if that's how you're going to have it, it's hard to have a conversation about that very thing.
I agree that there is a huge difference... and I agree that it's wrong for me... and apparently for you... but I can't say that it's absolutely, 100%, without exception, wrong for everyone, everywhere, period.
I'm not saying there shouldn't be discussion about beliefs and freedom (as we are now). I am saying that those conversations shouldn't be forced on people that don't want to have them. If you're advertising your beliefs or thrusting them upon someone else, then you're opening yourself to discussion on them. If you're not, then there's no reason for the discussion to happen. So, I do think that discussions should happen... but happen maturely. I don't think the wars you're describing are started by people disagreeing... we disagree all the time and manage to not kill each other. The wars start because one person demands that the other conform or acquiesce to the perspective of the other. You can like vanilla and I can like chocolate, and we'll get along just fine. If however, I demand that you never have vanilla again and cram chocolate down your throat, we'll likely have a problem. It's not the belief/opinion that causes wars... it's acting as if one person has the right to push that onto others that problems erupt.
Re: evolution vs. creationism... I'll acknowledge that this might be a grey area and a difficult perspective. My viewpoint is that science class should teach matters of science. Evolution has scientific basis, so science class is appropriate for it. However, it is still technically only a theory, no matter how strong we believe the theory to be. If a parent wants to pull their kids out of the evolution portion of class, that's their decision. If you want to focus on the purity of the issues though, while I have a strong belief in evolution, others may not and I think it's their right to disagree with me. I can think they're crazy or idiotic if I want to... but I wouldn't take away their right to disagree with me... and yet I wouldn't demand that they renounce creationism either.
...and to your final point, there's one wonderful irony in my belief system that I am not ignorant of: In order for my belief system to work, it demands that others believe in it too. Interesting contradiction. :) The way around this though is to acknowledge that my belief system works for me and may not work for others... so I don't push it on anyone, despite the fact that I practice it relatively well. However, this doesn't mean debate can't happen. I put my beliefs on my blog, effectively opening the dialog... and you responded, creating the dialog. We've had debate and disagreement, but that's okay, because it was literally INVITED to happen. You've challenged me, and I appreciate the challenge... yet while we've both expressed viewpoints that cause us to think about our beliefs and/or justify them, I don't recall either of us saying the other was wrong. We may have said we disagree... but we haven't forced our beliefs onto the other person. We've conversed without oppressing. In my belief system, this is the right way to have the conversation. :)
... and I agree that it's wrong for me... but I can't say that it's absolutely, 100%, without exception, wrong for everyone, everywhere, period.
I did in fact say, "setting aside matters of moral absolutes". But can you say that at least 99% of the time it's wrong? And that someone volunteering for that is not mentally competent to make such a decision? I can imagine a world where doing that wouldn't be wrong or sick, but I read a lot of science fiction. In our world, there's virtually no way to justify that as anything other than sick and wrong.
Anyway, back to your original statement. In practice, I don't think it's useful to try and talk people out of their beliefs, but only because it's nearly always a complete waste of time and can antagonize people who you might want to get along with for other reasons. It's kind of sad that people can so easily be taught to believe bullshit, and while I'd like to free people's minds I realize that's not going to happen by arguing. Well, usually I realize it in retrospect.