Help Break The Spell Of Religious Reverence (Tip 5 of 10 For Reaching Out To Religious People)

1. Don’t Call Religious Believers Stupid.

2. Make Believers Stay on Topic During Debates.

3. Don’t Tell Religious Believers What They “Really Believe”.

4. Clarify What Kinds of Evidence Warrant What Kinds of Beliefs.

5. Help Break The Spell Of Religious Reverence.

Religious people are often on a hair-trigger to be offended. And they will often want you to “respectfully” refrain from irreverently treating the objects of their reverence. But you shouldn’t treat what they treat as above reproach or ridicule because when you do that, you implicitly affirm, and behave as though, these things are out of bounds for criticism. In effect, you treat these things as holy. In this way you inadvertently share the religious values about what may or may not be criticized and how it may be tackled if at all. In this way, you submit to their religion’s rules. In this way you let a religious culture co-opt your own conscience and give religious rules control over your own feelings about what is holy, i.e. “set apart” and “sacred” and “worthy of respect”.

As Nietzsche puts it, you must “break your revering will” and you should help the religious snap the spell their holy subjects have on them by treating them irreverently when appropriate. Recasting what they only want to see in an ideal light in harsher or sillier lights makes them have to think about other perspectives on what they treat as sacred. This is a stepping stone for them to understand and experience alternative (and truer) ways to seeing and treating what they reflexively revere. It’s okay to make them uncomfortable and cause conflict within them in these ways. It is a potential step towards breaking their undue reverence. This is why outright mockery (of ideas and of practices, but not of people–unless it is a friendly form of teasing which is not excessively cruel, bullying, or dehumanizing) and “blasphemy” are morally justifiable.

And since religious people’s reverences are usually blown way out of proportion–reaching to the unjustified levels of worship, it should not be unqualifiedly respected but vigorously challenged in a range of ways. Part of the very thing you are criticizing is the wrongness of worshiping itself and of overly submitting to wholly unjustified intellectual and moral authorities themselves and traditional objects of veneration itself. Part of that challenge is to lead by example and refuse to revere and to refuse to defer in the ways they do. Part of it is to desensitize them to the idea that these things can be dragged through the mud of no-holds-barred critique and mockery just like all other ideas are, so that it is conveyed that they (the ideas, not the people) are nothing special.

I would not go out of my way to be especially, gratuitously obscene. I wouldn’t mock in a fit of malice or anger or personal disrespect or total callous indifference to others’ feelings or any other nastiness. I would not go out of my way to insult the person who reveres this religious figure or practice or icon, etc., even if I am willing to risk their being offended at my lack of shared deference to what they irrationally over-esteem.

On some level I would treat with respect what is simply a matter of different culture and practice. I would always keep an eye on respecting the believers themselves and insofar as a practice is just a ritual and a cultural form for them, I would not go out of my way at all to disrespect it. But when it becomes a matter of truth or unhealthy reverence, the deference must end. When it becomes a matter of exercising and modeling my right to be irreverent then principle says I should be irreverent. I cannot force the religious to be irreverent with me of course. That’s the deal though. Both of us are entitled to explicitly revere or express independence of the same thing at the same time. That’s fairness and it is how you subtly and crucially assert and defend the rights of conscience and the ethos of criticizing and testing all ideas equally.

Your Thoughts?

More thoughts on these issues were in the following posts: My Thoughts On Blasphemy Day, In Defense of Mocking and Embarrassing Religion, and How Atheists Treat Religious Dictates as Holy.

6. Don’t Demonize Religious People’s Motives, Focus On Their Objective Harms.

7. Take Philosophy Seriously.

8. Both Refute The Best Counter-Arguments You Can Think Of And Create Gestalt Shifts.

9. Be Unapologetic, Rigorous, Patient, And Gracious With Religious Believers.

10. Love Religious People.

Patheos Atheist LogoLike Camels With Hammers and Patheos Atheist on Facebook!

New Philosophical Counter-Apologetics Class
Non-Believers Participating In Religious Rituals: A Question of Inclusiveness, Respect for Boundaries, and Consciences
Patronizing Religious People Is Disrespectful
Watch Me Live At 9:30pm ET Tonight (6/5/15) on YouTube!
About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.