Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Refuse

Greta Christina wrote a wonderful article about why it's so important for atheists to come out of the closet and to refuse social consent for religion. She writes:

Religion is a bad idea. It can’t stand up on its own. But it can — and does — perpetuate itself through social consent. It perpetuates itself through people not asking hard questions, or indeed any. It perpetuates itself through dogma saying that asking questions about religion is sinful and will result in punishment, and that trusting religion without evidence is virtuous. It perpetuates itself through dogma saying that joy and meaning and morality can only be found in religion, and that leaving religion will automatically result in a desperate, amoral, pointless life. It perpetuates itself through parents and other authority figures teaching it to children, whose brains are extra-vulnerable to believing whatever they’re taught. It perpetuates itself through social and even legal protections that keep religious leaders and organizations from suffering consequences when they behave despicably. It perpetuates itself through religious communities and support systems that make believing in religion — or pretending to believe in religion — a necessity to function and indeed survive. Etc. 

Beautifully said! She hits on many of the reasons why I can't seem to stop talking about my atheism and my anti-religious views. I cannot stand the fact that religion gets placed on this sacred pedestal and often remains unquestioned while being dragged into every facet of our lives. I see people thank god for the cure (received by a doctor, in the hospital) when a loved one recovers from a long illness, and blast "cancer" when he or she succumbs to it. Then I see an infertile woman praising god for her little test tube babies. And if I ask, "Well didn't god make cancer?" or "Didn't god make you infertile?" I am being snide or insensitive or just not really understanding something. Seriously, what do I not understand? I am a reasonable person and would love to know what I am missing by thinking god deserves the credit for famine, natural disasters, and diseases in addition to receiving credit for "blessings." Why would god create cleft palettes? And child leukemia? Why am I not allowed to ask those questions without being considered offensive? And what on earth do religious parents say to their children when they start asking these questions that makes so many of them stop asking by the time they are adults?

As Greta points out, religion makes believing something without evidence a virtue. This is dangerous. It allows a blanket answer for any uncomfortable questions about god by saying, "We don't understand god's plan," or some such nonsense. Seriously, does that answer stand up to any kind of scrutiny? Is anyone really okay with childhood leukemia existing because "god must have a plan that we don't know about?" Because I do not accept that answer. The thought that there is an all-powerful god that not only created leukemia, but could wipe it out and does not, is maddening and leaves me with a lot of feelings, none of them being love, peace or comfort. No one has ever, ever given me a reasonable answer for why things like that exist that could possibly support the idea of an all powerful god also being good. And I can't help but wonder what must be extinguished in a child to make her accept an answer like that as reasonable? When we elevate belief without evidence as a virtue and instill it in our kids, what else are they going to believe without reason?

So, I refuse to give religion consent to perpetuate itself. I do not believe any idea deserves to be on an untouchable, unquestionable pedestal, and I will continue asking questions and being generally disrespectful to religion. (As I've said before, I can disrespect religion without disrespecting the person who has the faith.) We atheists often like to hold up the story of the Emperor's New Clothes as an example of our experience with religion, and I think it's a perfect analogy. I am standing here listening to all these varied and detailed descriptions of his regal outfit, but I can still see the Emperor's pimply ass, and I cannot understand why everyone else doesn't see it, too. He's not wearing any freaking pants.


  1. I hid someone on FB today because of a wall-post about church bulletin boards, including one that said, "God does believe in atheists, therefore, atheist don't exist."

    I typed up a response three times, but due to self-employment in service--and in a conservative area-- I can't afford to reply and "stain" myself. So this quote is poignant:

    "It perpetuates itself through religious communities and support systems that make believing in religion — or pretending to believe in religion — a necessity to function and indeed survive."

  2. Wow... you put my feelings into words so clearly. I just want to stand up and applaud every time I read one of your posts. Know you are not alone - and thank you for speaking out!

  3. I read Chistina's post too and really liked it - I immediately changed my fb status to athiest instead of just secular humanist. I LOVE what you said about asking questions about the bad stuff that happens. it is funny that religious people attribute all good things to God but not the bad things. At least fundamentalists who blame sinners for natural disasters are not being hypocrites. It is amazing to me that people never question why God let soooooooooo many people die of horrible diseases before the advent of vaccines - we seem to always be awaiting on God who wait on scientists who really provide the solutions.

  4. Jennifer #1, there are so many times I type up replies to the ridiculous things I see from conservative friends and family on FB, but most of the time I refrain from actually sending them. Knowing that a logical reply on my part will result in an irrational rant on their part definitely plays into it. I try to discuss problems I have with religious ideas, but too often people see that as a personal attack. Of course that's exactly part of the problem Greta discussed... religion perpetuates itself by placing itself off limits from rational discussion.

    Jen, thank you so much!

    Dea, my FB status still says "Pastafarian." I agree that there is something to be said for the fundamentalists who realize god is responsible for the bad stuff, too. And when I read about certain Christians who let their children die rather than receive medical care, I can't help but think they are an example of true, non-hypocritical faith.

  5. I'm on the opposite side of this issue. Yes, I get angry. I'm subbing at a school where someone, possibly the janitor, put a religious candle on an open shelf. I first stuck it in a drawer, then, when it reappeared, I put it in the back of a cupboard. I feel better because I *don't* have to look at it. But I've met the janitor, and I know that I would never change her mind by talking about my atheism. From my church background, I grew to absolutely detest proselytization, so I can't proselytize for the our side. I'm glad to find other atheists on the Internet, but I've yet to find one who sees things from my perspective. Why can't we all just be who we are without other people trying to change us into them?

  6. Jude, I appreciate what you are saying. For me, it's not a matter of everyone just believing what they want to believe as long as we have people strapping bombs to themselves to kill those with different faiths, politicians trying to sneak Creationist teachings into public school, and candidates for various public offices claiming to talk to god. I mentioned in a post about secularism a while back that because I see religion as completely unnecessary, I can't accept all the bad things that are done in its name. And I don't personally think of questioning unfounded beliefs as proselytizing.