Where Should We Draw the Line on Tolerance for Religious Practices?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Where should we draw the line on tolerance for religious practices?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • FlyingFree333

    There should be zero tolerance for religious practices, all religions are massively harmful, proven false, criminal fraud syndicates. There is no amount of religion that is safe or acceptable and there has never been such a thing as personal belief, beliefs are the foundation of all actions, it is not possible to separate the two. All religious organizations should be prosecuted just like any other criminal enterprise, indoctrination of children should be officially classified as child abuse and child protective services should be called in when evidence of it is found, politicians and judges who use their religious beliefs as basis for their policies and decisions should be removed from office. And BTW NONE of these measures IN ANY WAY even slightly reduces anyone’s right to believe, they simply protect everyone else from being injured by those beliefs, which any just, secular government should be doing.

    • badgerchild

      Just to complete the circle, any violation of human rights and dignity that results from religious behavior should be addressed, even if it’s just a child sitting alone in a corner, looking out the window, who suddenly internalizes the concept of “sin” as meaning they’re intrinsically “bad”, or a parent who honestly believes that a spanking is godly. Addressing such a wrong means arranging for the damage to be repaired or restituted if possible, and prevention of further damage in the most effective, practical, and respectful available way.

    • David McNerney

      “Zero Tolerance”?

      A lot of religious practices are grown out of natural human responses to circumstances.

      Would you deny a mother who has lost her entire family in a car accident the right to delude herself into thinking that “they are in a better place”? (Granted, most institutionalized religions then go on to exploit that for fun and profit).

      • FlyingFree333

        As I stated in my comment, the measures I listed would in no way reduce anyone’s right to believe, only stop them from being able to use those beliefs against others or for profit.

        • badgerchild

          I can see someone using a religious belief for profit without harming someone else. For example, the Jews for a long time took advantage of the fact that they were allowed to lend at interest, where Christians believed that they were barred from benefiting from “usury”. However, the practice was necessary and enabled cash flow technology to build modern-style business and the middle class. You could make an argument that it wasn’t the Jews benefiting from their religious belief so much as the Christians harming themselves, and I’d mostly agree with you, but other religious beliefs of the Jews promoted activities and attitudes that predisposed them to seeing and taking advantage of the opportunity thus presented.

          I’m not claiming, of course, that all practices that Jewish people developed out of their religion were beneficial, far from it. But I’m not closed to the idea that some religious practices can lead to benefits. It’s possible to think of religiously-derived practices as being both beneficial and harmful (I could argue for/against peyote usage, for example) and in those cases the argument could go on for… well, as long as we argue difficult secular laws.

      • The Other Weirdo

        How people cope with grief and stress is up to them. However, I feel that their right to their individualism should take a severe beating as soon as they begin affecting others.

        • David McNerney

          Absolutely – but that’s not “Zero Tolerance”.

      • Goape

        I always thought the whole “better place” coping mechanism seemed a little too numb and detached. I think a system of belief that promotes reality—that loved ones can live on in memory, that the world is better for them having lived, etc.—would only deny someone a delusional repression of emotions. Religious platitudes aren’t the only (or healthiest) means of coping.

        • David McNerney

          100% Agree with that. I think it’s far healthier to accept reality and remember fondly those that are lost.

          But you wouldn’t tell that to a grieving mother.

          All of us non-believers have bitten our tongues when presented with a grieving person’s self-delusion. Of course, in our own grief we have often be told that we are being prayed for or that our loved one are with Jesus.

          • badgerchild

            Carl Sagan wrote about the idea that what we leave behind in the hearts and minds of people we encountered or influenced in life is a demonstrable legacy with an existence. While we are alive, our personhoods are not entirely confined to our bodies, but also exist in the experiences and memories of others. What we leave behind, whether tangible or intangible, can influence people even after our death, of course, and Sagan’s legacy is an excellent example. I’ve told this to even religious people, who take it various ways from “yes, my religion says that too” to “that supplies something my religion does not”.

            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

              Shorter Sagan: “They live on as long as we remember.”

          • Goape

            You’re right that I wouldn’t tell a grieving mother that she is wrong to placate herself with the “better place” insistence. It’s a good point to make.

            However, I think it’s worthwhile to recognise that being intolerant of the ultra-persuasive religious practices that infected the poor woman’s brain doesn’t necessarily mean I’m barking in people’s faces at inopportune times.

          • Robin

            I have heard greaving parents say ” DO NOT tell me my loved on is in a “better” place, they were with ME before they died, it doesn’t make them feel better to be told that somewhere else is better than being with their loved ones. And some have said “DON’T” tell me that they are with jesus cause if there is a jesus he took them from me. Just sayin’

            • Nancy Shrew

              Yeah, you pretty much have to take their lead on however they decide to deal with their loved one’s death lest you look like a pushy and/or heartless asshole.

    • rwlawoffice

      So you claim that people can believe what they want, they just can’t say anything about it, they can’t do anything with that belief and they in no way can act upon that belief? Your line of thinking was why our framers of the constitution were wise enough to include the first amendment. You are simply replacing religion running government which they did not want, with your own brand of philosophy to the exclusion of all of those that disagree with you. Your thought process fits very well in communist Russia and China and is the exact opposite of a just and free society. Your are setting up a secular humanist theocracy and you call it just.

      The fact that you believe that religion is bad and has harmed society in the way that you would not like to see it (which it has on occasion) is something that could be said about a lot of secular based philosophies that have killed millions in the past. The examples of the totalitarian secular based societies that you are suggesting are the very ones that are the most unjust and the ones with horrendous human rights abuses. They are no different than the extreme theocracies set up in some Muslim countries.

      • Oswald Carnes

        Fuck Jesus.

        • Blacksheep

          “When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

          • badgerchild

            Bible verses are not magic spells, Blacksheep. Do you have an argument?

            • Blacksheep

              Again, you seem to be under the impression that you are some sort of FA comment hall monitor. That’s fine if you enjoy it I guess.

              My comment is clear without having to extrapolate. I’m pointing out what Jesus’ response might have been to OC, based on scripture. (Whether one believes it to be true, magical, etc.).

              • badgerchild

                I’m sorry, I don’t see an argument in that pile of rubbish. Care to clarify what your point is?

                • Blacksheep

                  Who said it was an argument? A comment is different from an argument.

                  You chose the perfect screen name by the way!

                • badgerchild

                  OK, I’ll take it as a comment rather than an argument. I was operating under the assumption that Blacksheep was trying to make a point, but that need not necessarily be the case, I suppose.

                • badgerchild

                  Oh, you originally appear to have written this under the screen name of ShoeUnited. Was that intentional, or a glitch?

                • Bitter Lizard

                  This is a glitch–ShoeUnited is evidently an atheist and different dude than Blacksheep. Disqus does weird things with mislabelling people’s names on new comments, and it seems to happen more with people who post as guests. It was actually showing me all the new comments that popped up as being under your name until I reloaded the page.

                • badgerchild

                  I’m bored, ill with the flu, and suffering from SIWOTI syndrome, but I’m not THAT ubiquitous on the thread :)

      • Goape

        A lack of spirituality (secularism) has never been a cause of crimes against humanity. The totalitarian societies that did commit atrocities for non-religious reasons possesed motivations other than secularism. Do you really think that Stalin and Mao whipped their troops into a brainwashed frenzy by proclaiming that “there’s no spiritual platform in our government”?

        • Bitter Lizard

          I’m more concerned about all the crimes committed by non-Stalinists throughout history. The ratio of non-Stalinist atrocities to Stalinist atrocities is much higher than the ratio of non-theist atrocities to theist ones. So by religious apologist reasoning, Stalinism must have been awesome.

        • rwlawoffice

          A rewriting of history to justify your worldview really doesn’t work.

          • Goape

            I agree.

          • Carmenalex

            But he’s not…these people didn’t murder because their atheism told them to…they did horrid things because of the totalitarian ideologies and obsession with power they espoused…they where no secular humanists. They where totalitarian dictators…that where raised up in religion…Stalin was even going to be a priest…non of them where raised secular humanists…they where brought up with religion…even Mao has said good things about Buddhism…Hitler was also raised Catholic and in Mein Kampf and in his speeches mentioned god frequently…God was on the Nazi uniform belt buckle….

            • Bitter Lizard

              While there is some evidence that Hitler may have abandoned conventional Christianity later in his life, there is no good evidence that he ever said he was an atheist or didn’t believe in God, contrasted with countless quotes where he talks about his faith in God. If Hitler ever said “there is no God”, you can bet we, as atheists, would have seen this quote a billion times from theists. Nazi Germany was a predominately Christian country. Even if you argue that Hitler’s constant invocation of the almighty was just a propaganda tool, the fact that appealing to people’s Christian faith helped to inspire them to kill millions of Jews isn’t exactly a sterling defense of religion.

            • rwlawoffice

              The society these dictators were setting up was a secular society and in the process they killed millions of people to reach that goal.

              • Kodie

                I don’t know why you file secularism with dictatorship except you are willfully ignorant, even after this has been explained to you. Your thoughts begin and end with Stalin. You never make the case why it’s better to live in a theocracy, where businesses are allowed to be thugs to whole classes of customers they don’t like.

                • Rwlawoffice

                  I was responding to a comment where the poster wanted to outlaw religion and create a secular society. The examples of where that has occurred are the dictators that gives us the example of what that looks like. Thus it was relevant

                • Fred

                  Except for the part where you’re wrong, willfully ignorant, and fucked up. Yeah it was irrelevant.

                • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                  Oh, do shut up. You never post anything relevant, only more whinging about “persecution” and wrongheaded “opinions” about the law that even a non-lawyer such as myself can pick apart with one paw tied behind my back.

    • viaten

      It’s a problem if people think “zero tolerance” has to be applied. That’s a religious mentality. There are certainly many areas where there should be more restrictions on what religious people do, but eliminating all practices and allowing nothing more than “believing” is not realistic. Peoples thinking, awareness, and attitudes need to be changed to eliminate the need for drawing hard lines.

    • badgerchild

      “Zero tolerance” means “I said so and that settles it; why are you still thinking?”

    • Blacksheep

      “All religious organizations should be prosecuted just like any other criminal enterprise…”

      Your hyper-reactive viewpoint is no different from any other totalitarian doctrine.

      • badgerchild

        And what’s your viewpoint, then? You haven’t posted one so far. Suppose you make a positive contribution to the discussion, eh? Are you trying to justify harm done by religion, or do you have something of substance to say?

        • Blacksheep

          My viewpoint is pretty well expressed in my comment. I can’t tell from your response if you agree or disagree with FF’s opinion, which I obviously disagree with.
          How is your response to me making a positive contribution?

          • badgerchild

            I can’t meaningfully respond to your argument until you make one. As it is your original content is meaningless and amounts to “nyaah, nyaah, you’re mean just like an evil dictator”. You could start by explaining rationally why you think the poster’s viewpoint is similar to totalitarian doctrine. Can you do that?

            • Blacksheep

              OK, we can take the remedial route if it helps:

              First I said that I disagree that all religious organizations should be prosecuted just like a criminal enterprise. In my opinion, that is a totalitarian mindset.

              You chimed in, but did not say whether or not you agreed with that sentiment.

              Then I asked you directly if you agree or disagree. Pretty simple.

              These are statements – not arguments. If you’re not sure how you feel or what you agree with, pretty tough to keep hand-holding.

              Then you add a statement like “can you do that?”

              …that’s how I know the type of person you are at heart.

              • badgerchild

                Oh, you’re actually Blacksheep? Confusing. Why did you find it necessary to sockpuppet?

                I was waiting to see what argument you presented, so that I could argue meaningfully, but you didn’t present one. Since you are against demonstration or justification of a statement, or the presentation of any sort of substantive argument, a bare statement that “I disagree and that’s my opinion” should settle things to your satisfaction.

                Your personal opinion of me is irrelevant and your comments as to my motives and/or background are shots in the dark, by the way. Suppose we stick to substance.

                • badgerchild

                  The above comment was written as a response when the comment it was responding to showed that it was written by “ShoeUnited”.

                • Blacksheep

                  Understood, there is a glitch in the system that sometimes wrongly attributes the poster for a little while after it’s posted.

                • Blacksheep

                  (Funny, though, that your very first instinct is to accuse me of wrongdoing).

                • badgerchild

                  Why is that funny? It was quite clear that the commenting system was showing three of your latest responses under a different name. You would have thought the same. Anyway it doesn’t matter because your comments in this subthread have been devoid of substance and I will in the future address your comments only if you say something related to the blog topic or a response to a post related to the blog topic.

                • Matt D

                  Disqus is bugged like that sometimes (believe me, it’s caused me a lot of trouble).

                • Blacksheep

                  Being rude and condescending, and then criticizing me for calling it out, is not a good way to be.

                  Thank you – I now have your opinion! You disagree with my opinion, which is that it’s wrong to prosecute all religious organizations just like a criminal enterprises.

                  You may also want to back that up with why that would be OK with you, but even if you don’t I know where you stand.

                • badgerchild

                  You first.

                • Blacksheep

                  child indeed.

                • badgerchild

                  How dare you insist on a substantive argument from me when you refuse to provide one yourself?

                  By the way, if I really was a child, my intellectual development would be fairly prodigious. So maybe that’s really a backhanded compliment.

                • Blacksheep

                  Insist? please re-read. I never did anything of the sort.

                  Sure, it’s a compliment.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      I disagree.

      Not because there aren’t harmful practices and beliefs.

      But because “zero tolerance” policies just don’t work. It didn’t work with alcohol (Prohibition), it didn’t work with the War on (Some) Drugs, it hasn’t worked in the schools (children expelled for one-inch toy guns, butter knives, and other “dangerous weapons”, kids expelled for “dealing” for nothing more than sharing Midol with a friend), and it won’t work with religion.

      Instead, we should work to reduce the harms done.

  • Goape

    Religious practices allow a religion to hold sway over logical lines of reasoning. This creates large populations of citizens that are sympathetic to, or sometimes devoted to, systems of belief that are unrealistic. And this makes me think that there is no form of religious practice sufficiently innocuous as to warrant my tolerance. People deserve tolerance, some religious people deserve sympathy, but the practices that infect them deserve opposition.

  • Rev. Achron Timeless

    I view it kinda like the other idiotic groups we’ve had for a while. If someone wants to spend thousands of dollars on equipment, and waste the majority of their life trying to find bigfoot or the loch ness monster.. well, they’re nuts, but it’s not like they’re hurting anyone but themselves.

    As long as they stay at that level, I generally can put up with it. When they suddenly somehow gain even a small measure of political power like the anti-vaccine cult, or the “tea party”, and try to enforce their insanity on everyone else against their will… well, suddenly we have an issue.

    Imagine being told you have to vacate your home because someone managed to get the area declared a bigfoot sanctuary, without ever proving there is such a thing. Scary thought.

    • Goape

      I don’t think that religion is as simple and banal as you make it out to be. Any level of religious belief is an overt call for disbelief in the reality of the world. Religion, by its very nature, promotes an acceptance of cresulism that has repercussions on modern society.

      • Rev. Achron Timeless

        Well, you’ve got 2 basic varieties as far as I’ve seen. One is foaming at the mouth everything in the bible (KJV only, of course) is literal, etc. Those are the dangerous ones.

        Then you’ve got the “cultural christians” which even that’s further subdivided depending on how dedicated to it they are. Some haven’t set foot in a church or even thought about their supposed faith for decades, but when asked will still proclaim faith. Others, and this seems to be the majority, practice what they think the religion is, but when you go down the list of things they must practice/believe as outlined in their religious text, they’ll reject any of them at aren’t common sense anyway (don’t murder, etc.).

        Now the latter group, when someone is sick, yes they’ll pray… after taking them to the doctor. If someone has long term illness/disability, they’ll go to revivals and the like… while still taking their medication. etc. etc. The only measurable harm they do is insisting the insane beliefs of the fanatics are absolutely true and cannot be questioned. It doesn’t matter how different their beliefs are, as long as you slap “jesus approved” on the box, they’ll defend it.

        But, ya know, it’s really about the same as people who insist on alternative medicine. Some will insist homeopathy can cure anything, while others will actually take their kids to a doctor when the sugar pills aren’t working.

        You can’t fight everyone, so focus on the ones doing measurable harm other than just being a bit stupid. We can educate the rest later when they aren’t being influenced by fanatics.

        • Goape

          That you are able to categorise types of christians is moot. I never stated that all religious believers were guilty, or capable, of causing the same level of harm. My stance is one of intolerance towards rampant credulousness.

          • Rev. Achron Timeless

            So, you recognize not all are the same… but we should treat them the same?

            *sigh* Sorry, thought I was having a discussion. I see now I’m just butting heads with another type of dogma.

            “Only a Sith deals in absolutes”

            • Goape

              It’s bad to be gullible—this is not dogma. My choice to employ intolerance towards religion on the grounds that it is generally an agent of societal retardation is in no way generalizing individuals. If I were to say that I think broken bones are bad, would you try to refute my statement by insisting that not all bones are of equal importance? You seem to think that you can be dismissive of my general intolerance towards something that is unmistakably detrimental. I would think it is obvious that I am more intolerant of zealots than I am of your so called “cultural christians”. I just don’t think a detrimental set of practices deserves a pass on criticism because there are shades of grey involved.

              • Rev. Achron Timeless

                For both broken bones and silly beliefs, the word you are forgetting is ‘triage’

                • Goape

                  I have specifically addressed your hangup with differing levels of intolerance that, I assume, you think warrants triage (apparently you see yourself as some logic surgeon).

                  That you only concern yourself with people whose silly beliefs have an apparent and direct consequence on you doesn’t equate to triage (you aren’t prioritising all of the silly beliefs that you are confronted with and just addressing the ones that need you the most), it just highlights your short sightedness and selfishness.

                  Even if I am ever faced with some sort of battlefield or plane crash level of illogical reasoning that required triage, why would that situation require me to abandon my general understanding of irrationality as a detriment?

                • Rev. Achron Timeless

                  This is amusing. I use a word correctly and you start throwing a tantrum over it.

                  All triage means is treating the worst problems first, then when you’re done with that one, treat the next worst problem until there are no problems left.

                  Your lack of basic vocabulary isn’t license to act like a prick.

                • Goape

                  What a presumptuous dick. You used a simple word in a manner that (again) misses the point of my comments. I addressed your comments accurately and even did you the favor of incorporating the correct definition of triage in my previous post in case you were confused. You’ve never even come close to addressing my insistence that there is no circumstance where religion is good. Are you reading my posts?

                  Is it time for me to start making snide little quips (“*sigh*”, shitty Star Wars quote, rude assumption, etc.) to make my point?

                • Rev. Achron Timeless

                  Oh that’s rich. You willfully twist what I’m saying, ignore the fact that your “point” is irrelevant, and act like I’m doing you some disservice for bothering to try to get that through your head.

                  Not all problems are equal. You act as if they are, as all extremists do. I point this out, you throw a tantrum. Seriously, unless you significantly grow some maturity, don’t bother spouting your nonsense again as if repeating it makes it true. That, again, is the mark of an extremist.

                  As for me, I’ll continue not treating “in god we trust” on our currency as an equal issue to preachers trying to rape boys straight and then not getting jail time for it. Why? Because you’d have to be insane to think they need to be pursued with the same urgency.

                • Goape

                  Please explain how I’ve twisted what you said.

                  I’ve already acquiesced that not all problems are equal.

                  I’ve already stated that not all problems warrant the same concern.

                  What exactly are you arguing against?

                • Rev. Achron Timeless

                  Are we at the “I agreed with you the whole time” stage of this farce already?

                  Coming soon to a comment thread near you: Trying to say I had your position while you had mine.

                  Well, this was novel entertainment for a while, but have to say it’s getting rather unoriginal at this point. I’ll be off to do more productive things like counting ceiling tiles.

                  I’m sure you’ll take that as “winning” or something. Whatever helps your ego I guess.

            • Bitter Lizard

              I can’t speak for Goape, but since I think we’re coming from pretty much the same place I think clarifying my perspective would be relevant: religious beliefs can exist on a spectrum of harm, where some cause more than others, but that doesn’t mean that any of them are okay. Once you say it’s acceptable to believe things with no good evidence, you are in effect saying it is acceptable to believe all of those things, not just the ones that result in an outcome you find more desirable.

          • Bitter Lizard

            I think you’re saying much the same thing as what I’m trying to say. Let’s take an example of a religious person who believes God wants you to love people and help the less fortunate. That’s cool, right? So let’s say that belief is 100% okay. So another religious person says God wants them to kill children. Now, that’s bad, and we’re not cool with it. But wait–we just said believing you know there’s a God and what he wants is okay. The second person is no less justified from an evidence-based standpoint on what they believe than the first person. By saying the first person was justified in their beliefs, we basically justified the second as well.

            • Goape

              Exactly. “I find you lack of faith disturbing” refreshing.

        • Kodie

          We haven’t even addressed the harm of the middle-road Christians who never hurt anyone really, or generally agree with reality and things we like. It’s that they defend Christianity, they take criticism of Christianity personally, and never really give us a good reason for it. They will say some other kind of bad Christian is just not a real Christian, but they are still invested in their beliefs to try and try and try to correct us, at the cost of anyone getting anywhere in a conversation.

          Do they agree with us about a lot of things? Great. Where are they when their “fellow” Christians get into shit? Off in the corner trying to avoid being blamed, or shouting at us to stop mixing up the types of Christians there are.

          Fuck them all!

  • badgerchild

    It’s going to be interesting how many of the “their house, their rules” apologists show up here from the thread about the story about the woman in the sexy wedding dress.

    Just to recap, when you say “it’s their church, they have a right to set the rules”, you are proposing the religious equivalent of the ancient Roman paterfamilias law, which stated that the head of the household had supreme authority over every member of the household, even to the extent that he could legally kill them if he so chose. A “their house, their rules” attitude is the same as saying “anything goes if the man in charge says so”. It is a claim that any conceivable harm is prima facie justifiable if committed by a private entity on private property, especially if religion is invoked.

    I see that someone’s already made the argument that they’re often not hurting anyone but themselves, and the poster can “generally put up with it” unless they try to inflict their harm on “everyone else”, and at that point we “suddenly” have “an issue”. Sorry, but people in religions are still people and have rights to be free from harm done to them.

  • Bitter Lizard

    I disagree with Hemant on what I see as a superficial division between harmful religious beliefs and harmless ones. Either it’s warranted to believe in things with no evidence or logic to support them, or it isn’t. If it is, that means that beliefs that gay people or infidels should die are warranted beliefs. If it isn’t, that means that all religious beliefs are unwarranted. The very notion that “faith” is an acceptable justification for believing anything is the underlying problem behind all the worst crimes against humanity that the religious commit. You can’t rationalize some religious beliefs without rationalizing all of them.

    • rwlawoffice

      What about the harms done in the name of secularism? How about the millions pf people that have been killed in an effort to stamp out religious thought? Does that mean that all thoughts of secularism are unjustified?

      • Bitter Lizard

        The atheistic regimes of Stalin and Mao had extremely irrational ideologies behind them. So by rationalizing irrationality, you’re rationalizing them as well. And comparing the crimes committed in the name of theism to crimes committed by non-theists is no different from comparing the crimes committed in the name of Stalinism to all the crimes in history committed by non-Stalinists. It is not a defense of theism that there have been other irrational “isms” that were bad, any more than a murderer is made innocent by the fact that other murderers exist.

        • joey_in_NC

          The atheistic regimes of Stalin and Mao had extremely irrational ideologies behind them.

          What are the “irrational ideologies” behind them? Tell me, what exactly is irrational about the ideology that religion is poison to society?

          • badgerchild

            Tricky, aren’t you? The irrational ideologies of Stalin and Mao were not directly related to atheism, they were related to totalitarianism of a particularly inimical sort. The State can be a god, too.

          • The Other Weirdo

            If you think that “religion”, one way or another, was the driving force behind the rise of Communism, and especially Stalinism, you really don’t understand history.

            • joey_in_NC

              You don’t think atheism and materlism were fundamental tenets of Marxism-Leninism?

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxism-Leninism#Theological

              • badgerchild

                And so what if they were tenets? The abuses of Marxism-Leninism and the regimes of Stalin and Mao did not proceed from the idea that God does not exist and the natural world is all that does. They proceeded from totalitarian motives quite independent of those ideas (totalitarianism can and does obviously exist in a religious context). If you can demonstrate that the abuses necessarily derived from atheism or materialism, properly understood, I suggest you begin.

                • joey_in_NC

                  If you can demonstrate that the abuses necessarily derived from atheism or materialism, properly understood, I suggest you begin.

                  Of course! Once you stop believing in the inherent human dignity/value of all people (since this belief is completely incompatible with materialist atheism), then history has shown that you are bound for abuses.

                  If it can be reasoned that it is for the greater good of society that these few dissenters are crushed, then why not do it? These few people have no inherent value (given materialism) other than the subjective value assigned to them by society (the majority, or simply what the state says). And if society doesn’t value them, then they’re worthless.

                • badgerchild

                  There is nothing in atheism or materialism that says or implies or can be made to imply that humans have no dignity or value. In fact, it may be eye-opening for you to familiarize yourself with the current state of science and scholarship on the development of altruism, for example. The idea that humans have no dignity or value except as assigned to them by other humans is contradictory on its face, by the way. Societies are instituted, as the phrase has it, to benefit entire populations. There are societies that function perfectly well without ever having been religious. You may want to check to make sure you are using sources for your arguments other than simply the ones that support your religious preconceptions.

                • joey_in_NC

                  There is nothing in atheism or materialism that says or implies or can be made to imply that humans have no dignity or value.

                  I would agree if you’re talking about subjective value. But I made it explicitly clear that I’m talking about inherent value. And of course materialism says that humans have no inherent value, unless you can come up with some scientific definition of value that can be objectively applied to a particular organization of carbon compounds. Materialism simply states that human beings are simply chemistry, nothing more. Where is objective “value” or “dignity” there?

                • 3lemenope

                  Ah, there’s your mistake. You think that materialism says humans have no inherent value; in fact, materialism says nothing on the subject at all. Materialism, as an ontological theory, is not concerned with questions of value and does not address them.

                • joey_in_NC

                  You think that materialism says humans have no inherent value; in fact, materialism says nothing on the subject at all.

                  Actually, materialism does say something on the subject of inherent value, if inherent value is understood to be some metaphysical or transcendent reality (that is, by definition, not material). If that is the case, materialism simply states that such things don’t exist.

                  I would agree materialism says nothing on the subject of subjective value. But again, that’s not what I’ve been talking about.

                • 3lemenope

                  Incorrect. Materialism does not exclude phenomena such as calculation and syntactic arrangement which could possibly serve as objective stores of value, so there is room for non-physical notions in a materialist metaphysics.

                • joey_in_NC

                  Materialism does not exclude phenomena such as calculation and syntactic arrangement which could possibly serve as objective stores of value…

                  So you think the existence of human dignity is an objective truth, just like the truth of the Pythagorean Theorem?

                • 3lemenope

                  I’d be the first to admit that I don’t know. I was merely mentioning the possibility so as to point out the error in your categorical statements regarding materialism.

                • joey_in_NC

                  Well, I agree that materialism “does not exclude phenomena such as calculation and syntactic arrangement”. But unless you believe the concept of inherent human dignity falls within this categorization, then what’s the point? I don’t think anyone can truly argue that it does. If someone can, then I’d love to hear the argument.

                  Otherwise, I’ll stick with the position that it follows from materialism that inherent human dignity simply doesn’t exist. That the dignity/value of someone can only be given by others, and there is nothing inherent about it.

                  So from that it follows that if the majority of society or the state doesn’t assign dignity to a certain group of people, then they really don’t have any. And thus abuses result.

                • Kodie

                  I don’t know why you think humans have inherent value. I don’t know why you keep getting stuck on it, or why you insist that there is some kind of point you are making about it that you are somehow catching people in a flawed argument. Why don’t you tell us all about how it is you suppose humans do have inherent value instead.

                • 3lemenope

                  As Kodie alludes, all theistic conceptions of human value are imbued rather than innate. There is nothing inherent to human dignity under a theistic conception; it is a condescension granted by a deity to a being a great deal smaller, and fitfully at that.

                • badgerchild

                  I’ll summarize by saying that it is possible to observe populations and objectively identify benefit or harm done to individuals or groups up to the level of the entire population. Each event or action can be objectively evaluated in terms of its benefits and harms. This can easily be done without reference to a god or system of god belief. In fact, god-beliefs can themselves be objectively evaluated.

                  You appear to be approaching the argument that atheist materialism cannot account for the existence moral systems. I maintain that nothing else can account for their existence. If a god or gods were the only possible source of morality, then a coherent, consistent universal morality could be observed, and such a thing is demonstrably not the case. Morals appear to be a reflection of human perception, available information, conscious and unconscious assessment of benefits and harms, and evolved mechanisms of altruism that exist to varying degrees between individuals and populations.

                • badgerchild

                  This may also help. Since you think that the idea that man has no value is a tenet of Marxism (it is not, as a matter of fact, it is nihilistic), the following quote from Marx might be illuminating:

                  “The criticism of religion ends with the teaching that man is the highest being for man, hence with the categorical imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved forsaken, despicable being….” (1844, from “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”)

                • joey_in_NC

                  Since you think that the idea that man has no value is a tenet of Marxism…

                  Not really. Materialism is a tenet of Marxism. And from materialism, it follows that man has no inherent value.

                • badgerchild

                  The consensus in this comment thread seems to be that materialism does not imply that man has no inherent value. However, each person has value to themselves. Consciousness and cognition necessarily imply this. Even perception depends on it, if it contains the assumption that a person may trust himself to make correct perceptions. It appears that Marxism recognizes this as the intrinsic value that gives rise to other Marxist ideas such as the value of labor and so forth. Materialism does not argue that man does not have value to himself. Your understanding of materialism is one that is common to theistic sources, but not to secular sources. Other posters may have other insights into this as I know my case is incomplete, but I think I’ve presented enough to rebut your claim meaningfully.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  Who cares? Marxism is a deeply flawed system. That you seem enamored of it suggests to me that you really want to live like them.

                • badgerchild

                  Actually I think Joey started with the idea that Marxism-Leninism was bad because atheism, or vice versa. Anyway he seems to believe that it denies value to the individual, and we’re arguing he’s not correct about that, but it’s not fair to say he likes it.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  Wording warning: Marxism-Leninism does deny value to the individual, but not because of atheism, but I think you mean that he thinks atheism denies value, in which case I agree with you.

                  My point wasn’t necessarily that he likes, only that he wants to talk about it all the time, but yes, in retrospect, that was overstating the matter.

                • joey_in_NC

                  Marxism-Leninism does deny value to the individual, but not because of atheism, but I think you mean that he thinks atheism denies value, in which case I agree with you.

                  Atheism by itself doesn’t mean much at all. It simply means the disbelief in gods. However, materialism suggests much more than atheism. Given the standard definition, it is technically possible for an atheist to believe in souls, spirits, magic, voodoo…as long as the atheist doesn’t believe in gods. I understand that these beliefs are grossly inconsistent to the disbelief in gods, but the dictionary definition of atheism doesn’t exactly restrict such possibilities. However, materialism does.

                  So materialism denies inherent human value. No one has come close to countering this simple logical conclusion based on the definition of materialism.

                • joey_in_NC

                  I’ll summarize by saying that it is possible to observe populations and objectively identify benefit or harm done to individuals or groups up to the level of the entire population. Each event or action can be objectively evaluated in terms of its benefits and harms.

                  Sure. One can even reason that killing a few religious people can objectively benefit an atheistic society overall. And such reasoning has been used to justify a bunch of atrocities against minorities in a given society.

                  You appear to be approaching the argument that atheist materialism cannot account for the existence moral systems.

                  Absolutely not. Of course moral systems could exist given materialism. However, these moral systems must be understood as entirely subjective moral systems. If a given moral system is that human beings have value, then this value must be understood as subjective. Once you believe that human beings have inherent value, then you absolutely cease being a materialist.

                • badgerchild

                  Your claim that killing a few people can benefit a society is not limited to or necessarily dependent on an atheistic viewpoint.

                  Your assertion that a belief that human beings have inherent value contradicts materialism is wrong for reasons I posted in a comment elsewhere in this thread. You appear to have a less than nuanced understanding of the distinctions between subjective and objective morality, and to imply that subjective moral systems are inferior or even nondemonstrable. However, subjective morals are observable and testable, and a moment’s reflection will give you more examples than I can. But I’ll refer to the overall form of the Milgram experiments (however flawed a researcher Milgram was in practice) as a good example of how you can objectively assess subjective moral values. I hope that’s not too vague.

                  What you cannot do is to demonstrate an objective basis for morality, that is one that originates outside humans themselves, especially one that originates in the supernatural (whatever that may even mean). The closest I can come is evolved altruism, but that does not derive from religion either, but religion, insofar as it is concerned with morality, from it.

                • Goape

                  Materialism doesn’t address morals or ascribe values to things. Sociology, psychology, philosophy and common sense (to name a few) all insist that human lives and thoughts have an inherent value. (Unless you wrongly think inherent must equate to god given.) Your argument seems to be constructed entirely from your misconceptions.

                • Bitter Lizard

                  Theism: the idea that life can have no value unless otherwise proclaimed by an invisible mass murderer.

                • joey_in_NC

                  So do you actually believe in inherent human value? In other words, do you believe that humans possess this intrinsic worth, and they have it regardless of who believes it or not? Or they have this dignity even if it is impossible to measure or detect through scientific means?

                • badgerchild

                  Joey, I posted this before I saw your comment. See what you think. http://disqus.com/guest/99272795658e273caf8a8a3c75a44809/

                • ShoeUnited

                  Well, I assigned it the value, so yes I would think so. There’s nothing inherent in the scheme of the universe. A disease or bear will kill you dead tomorrow if luck happens to befall you. The universe doesn’t revere human life. We apply the value (usually) out of self-interest. But that’s merely because those who didn’t see value in human life were bred out for the most part. It’s no fault of our own, it’s just genetics. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_equation#Example:_Evolution_of_altruism

                • joey_in_NC

                  Sociology, psychology, philosophy and common sense (to name a few) all insist that human lives and thoughts have an inherent value.

                  And all of these are simply beliefs from thin air that lack any evidence from materialist science. You might as well propose that human beings have souls, since this belief similarly lacks any materialist evidence.

                  (Unless you wrongly think inherent must equate to god given.)

                  Not necessarily. “Inherent” simply means that it belongs to the basic nature of someone or something.

                  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inherent

                  Given materialism, how do you go about arguing that humans have inherent “value”, “dignity”, or “worth”, such that these things “belong to the basic nature” of human beings? What the heck does value/dignity/worth even mean scientifically? They’re entirely incoherent concepts given materialism.

                • ShoeUnited

                  I don’t see any value judgement based on atheism. It addresses theistic arguments about a god. You can’t judge philosophical arguments of human value on something that doesn’t address it any more than you could on lottery ticket methods.

                  So, I look at materialism. And this is just an argument about everything being material. Which is, again, a philosophy that doesn’t have a lot of philosophy about humans (other than they’re material things in the universe like everything else).

                  Now, if we look at philosophies based on human worth, like say humanism vs. eugenics then we have an argument of sorts. As a humanist, I put humans first. It’s in the title and you can get into details on your own time. Those who believed in Eugenics didn’t necessarily have a conflict with religion like Hitler, and Stalin.

                  When people try to point at Mao, he didn’t actually commit a eugenics campaign. His death toll seems to almost exclusively come from the civil wars and dissidents. And it seems from sources that Mao had regret over the deaths instituted, for whatever that’s worth.

                  Pol Pot was pro-eugenics though I could never find it officially stated, he enacted policies that were pro-Cambodian (like no jewelry). Then again, almost all of the horrific death toll comes from the civil war. Which may have not even happened if the former Khmer king hadn’t pitted the two sides against each other in the first place. Not to say the lives lost were a good thing.

                  But the issues are more complex than “No God”. And Eugenics certainly can cross religious lines. There are plenty of victims that are too numerous to list completely (even the wiki link I will put here doesn’t include some like the British genocide of the Jews in England during the Hundred Years War) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history .

                • ShoeUnited

                  That Stalin. Always hating the church. If only his atheism had allowed him to… Oh…

                  Article 124 of the 1936 Soviet Constitution
                  officially allowed for freedom of religion within the Soviet Union, and
                  along with initial statements of it being a multi-candidate election,
                  the Church again attempted to run its own religious candidates in the 1937 elections.
                  However the support of multicandidate elections was retracted several
                  months before the elections were held and in neither 1929 nor 1937 were
                  any candidates of the Orthodox Church elected.[33]

                  After Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union
                  in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify
                  patriotic support for the war effort. On September 4, 1943,
                  Metropolitans Sergius, Alexy and Nikolay
                  had a meeting with Stalin and received a permission to convene a
                  council on September 8, 1943, which elected Sergius Patriarch of Moscow
                  and
                  all the Rus’. This is considered by some as violation of the XXX
                  Apostolic canon, as no church hierarch could be consecrated by secular
                  authorities.[28] A new patriarch was elected, theological schools were
                  opened, and thousands of churches began to function. The Moscow
                  Theological Academy Seminary, which had been closed since 1918, was
                  re-opened.
                  Between 1945 and 1959 the official organization of the church was
                  greatly expanded, although individual members of the clergy were
                  occasionally arrested and exiled. The number of open churches reached
                  25,000. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become
                  active.

                  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Orthodox_Church#Stalin_era

                • Bitter Lizard

                  Studies have shown that the more religious countries are, the higher their homicide rates, the lower their life expectancies, and so on–with religion correlating negatively with nearly all measures of how much dignity and value human life is afforded across the board. The facts say you’re a liar, and not just a liar, but a liar who is lying to promote something that destroys human lives every day. That you apparently have no remorse for this fact means you’re a dyed-in-the-wool sociopath by definition.

                • joey_in_NC

                  Some logic you got there buddy.

                  I believe in inherent human dignity. Therefore, I promote the destruction of life.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  But you are not “showing”, you are “asserting” this, and a number of other things, all without a shred of evidence.

                • Jim Jones

                  The “inherent human dignity/value of all people” is the opposite of religion. Religion tells them they are worth nothing without submission to insane ideas.

              • The Other Weirdo

                As a means to an end, sure. Whatever they told the riffraff is one thing; what they actually believed themselves is something else entirely.

              • Jim Jones

                Marxism-Leninism had nothing to do with what happened in Russia or China. Neither became a communist country in anything but name. Like virulent anti-communism in the USA, these were fakes used to manipulate the masses. Stalin wanted to be Czar, Mao wanted to be Emperor, each said and did what it took.

                The perfect exemplar of this is North Korea. To the very limited extent that it has embraced communism it has been a complete failure. If it had, instead, embraced true employee ownership of farms and factories it might well be a great success. Instead the whole country is a giant form of serfdom.

          • Goape

            That sentence isn’t that confusing, is it?

          • Bitter Lizard

            It’s hard to tell whether this question comes more from a place of stupidity or dishonesty. Stalinism and Maoism were all-encompassing political and economic totalitarian ideologies, and were not exclusively or even primarily about “ridding the world of religion”, although I could see how someone could think that if their only exposure to the subject was theists lying about it. Any credible history book you read on either Stalinism or Maoism, unless its subject is primarily about their relationship to religion, will likely only have a few pages on the subject.

            There is nothing irrational about the idea that religion is harmful, which is why people who don’t like things like rape and child abuse tend to be opposed to it, but both ideologies failed because of their dogmatic, repressive and utopian aspects–many of which resembled and were even deliberately modeled after religion.

            If you really think the fact that Joseph Stalin was against religion means that religion is a good thing, I’d hate to hear your opinions on Nazism. He really, really didn’t like that.

      • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

        Leave that poor dead horse alone!

      • badgerchild

        What about the ham sandwich I had for lunch yesterday? What about the moon landing? What about the color of the sky? We are not talking about those things or about secular harms, we are talking about religious harms. Secular harms are harms and should be dealt with as all harms should be. Religion is itself a harm insofar as it is a lie about reality. Your attempt to derail the conversation has been noted.

      • WallofSleep

        Tu quoque? And not an original one at that.

      • The Other Weirdo

        I don’t even… How many times must the same things be explained?

      • guest

        Ha, that shut you up right quick rwlawoffice…for once. You couldn’t even provide one example of harm attributed to secularism. And suddenly having your religious “privileges” revoked is not the same thing as religious persecution. It’s called being treated as an equal. Sucks for you, huh? Troll.

  • lsomers

    Toleration of religious practices must be balanced with freedom of conscience for those who find religion and in particular theistic religion an affront to the intellect and to public morality. Christianity was up until the Enlightenment, as intolerant as ever a religion was – it was dominated by men who were just as nasty as many of the Islamist extremists are today. What we cannot tolerate is any system of beliefs and practices that seeks to limit the freedom of others: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of expression of those thoughts and ideas even in the face of disapproval because of political, social, cultural or dogmatic strictures; freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of and from religion in the public place, all of it. I say this after having spent the majority of my life as a “believer” and a good deal of it is a Catholic (not Roman) priest who is not an atheist.

  • viaten

    It seems for many religious groups, the point seems to be to see where society has put the lines and then try to cross them as much as the can get away with. For some, it seems that’s the whole point of their religion.

  • Brian Westley

    I think one good rule to have is this:

    no laws or rules are applied differently to anyone on account of religion.

    If someone can say “I must be permitted to do X” or “I must be excused from doing Y” due to their religion, someone else who may not be of the same religion must be able to do the same.

    • badgerchild

      No harms or privileges are automatically acceptable just because some religions are both allowed to do them. The legal process must take into account the benefits or harms of the proposed activity without respect to religion (which should sound oddly familiar to you).

      • badgerchild

        - “both”

        • Brian Westley

          Depends on the country. India has laws today that apply differently depending on the person’s religion. The US law on conscientious objectors specified that only religious people could get CO status until the supreme court ruled in Welsh v. US that it had to allow nontheists. The FFRF is challenging the housing exemption that only religious nonprofits can get.

          • badgerchild

            What’s your point? I’m not saying such laws don’t presently exist, just that they should ideally be (and in the stated and similar cases should have been) made and applied without respect to religion, if at all.

  • Itsrealfunnythat

    Any religion with child brides and genital mutilation should get the axe, just to start with…

    • The Other Weirdo

      I would immediately any religion that covers up some of its adherents from head to toe because the rest are supposedly a little rapey.

      • Itsrealfunnythat

        Especially if said religion blames the rape victim afterward.

  • Jim Jones

    We should draw the line at children and those who have no basis to judge religious ideas and values. We don’t let children smoke, drink, join the military or vote. We shouldn’t let adults lie to them about fairies in the sky. If they’re so sure about the ‘gods’, they can wait until the children are mature to convince them.

    The same applies to people raised in closed groups like Amish, Mennonites, Mormons and the like. No indoctrination before completing education.

    • badgerchild

      That’s an interesting thought experiment. I think it’s not something you can legitimately impose, though. I think it’s a desired outcome that will develop in a rational society. The right to freedom of expression is one that is so necessary and valuable that where we err, it must be on the side of leniency.

      • Jim Jones

        It’s difficult, but a worthwhile aim nonetheless. Children shouldn’t be denied a good education any more than they should be denied basic health care.

  • guest

    You draw the line at the feet of the theists. Once their beliefs start to influence anything or anybody outside of their little cult that is the time you push back and stop the nonsense in its tracks. Nobody likes an enabler.

  • John_in_Vegas

    We have acquired enough intelligence from empirical data to discredit most of religious faith; and yet, because we lack the fortitude to use it effectively, religion still holds a vice-like grip on society. It is not enough to draw a line at the edge of a belief, and where it may cause harm. We must also remove the idea from a plausible existence. Education must be used honestly and openly toward the eradication of faith based “truths” without fear of retribution.

    For our children, teachers should be expected to teach against religious faith when the evidence disputes it. For example, the bible is fraught with inconsistencies about historical events. Its veracity should be discussed using the same thought provoking language as any other subject. Children should be taught to substantiate incredible claims, no matter where they originate.

    For our religious leaders, we must actively remove the protections for faith based ideas as soon as they are invalidated. Ignorance must not be allowed to coexist with legitimate science. Bigotry from the pulpit should be met with the same disgust as bigotry expressed from anywhere else.

    Education and knowledge have allowed humanity to advance well beyond that of the ancients. Our ability to reason is what is limiting the expression of religious belief. We should not mistake it for intolerance.

  • Michael

    There’s an easy answer to this question…. Your right to practice your religious beliefs end where they infringe upon my enjoyment of of my own life……

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    When your beliefs or practices place other people (including, say, your own kids) in danger, the state should step in and say, “Nope.”

  • ron

    There is no rationalizeing religion. To think different you would be no less guilty than the old roman catholics, and other Christian faiths who over saw the murder of millions of Indians or the muslim crazies who would murder and enslave in blind obedience to a drunk perverted prophet.
    People who do not agree with homosexuals do not have to. It’s that simple.
    I am not so sure Hemant Mehta is an atheist. I am sure he is either gay or leaning towards coming uut of the closet in the future,

  • MacPhale

    Religion has caused more bloodshed in the world than anything else. Preachers and Lawyers are a close second. No religion has an exclusive on God. Is there a God? My religion is “I don’t know and neither do you.” I believe in God because I want to. Faith will not create a God anyplace other than in your own mind.


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