Do I Feel Sorry for Religious People?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question Do I feel sorry for religious people?:

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.

  • Mick

    I don’t feel sorry for them. They are fair weather friends. They pretend to love everybody but if you ever hit a nerve regarding their religion they instantly go into hate mode – and they’ve got bible verses telling them that their hatred is well directed. Psalm 14:1, Mark 16:16, Matthew 18:6, etc.

  • Derpy

    Feeling sorry religious people strikes me as a little presumptuous and condescending. I don’t feel sorry for them, but I don’t envy them.

  • A3Kr0n

    Do I feel sorry for my Catholic boss with his nine children, and car that’s held together with straw and manure? Or having to spend yesterday selling his wife’s homemade goat milk soap at a craft show? Not at all!

  • lisa eddy

    I feel sorry for the high school students who live under a cloud of anxiety and guilt over completely natural, human experiences like reading books, dancing, falling in love, making friends, traveling, wearing pants, listening to music–because of their parents’ religion-induced fear of ideas. I feel sorry for the girl who said there was no dancing to celebrate her friends’ wedding because of religious prohibition. I feel sorry for my former self, who spent years on my knees in service to a fictional character. I feel sorry that I didn’t do something more useful with all that time and energy I spent worshiping and praying to nobody.

  • Gitte

    No I don’t feel sorry for them. With their denial of science they will end up working for my children.

    • Jasper

      Maybe even as engineers … a technical profession where one can apparently deny the whole of science while using it, with zero cognitive dissonance… and at the end of the day, call themselves “scientists” instead of “engineers” – at least, when they’re trying for an Argument from Popularity.

      • JT Rager

        As an engineering student, this happens a lot. Most notably when it comes to climate change denial in the workplace. Coming from experience, you can’t walk into a cubicle for a mining company without hearing a ton of complaining about the EPA. Happens in oil companies too.

      • yellownumberfive

        I’m an engineer, and I know what you are talking about. In a nutshell, there are a lot of engineers who are creationists, because when you design things for a living you tend to start seeing “design” in EVERYTHING.

        It is an unfortunate predilection of the profession.

  • yellownumberfive

    Hemant is the “friendly
    atheist”, so let me say what he could not. I don’t just feel sorry for
    such people, I have contempt for them.

    Yes, it’s sad that they don’t experience the same wonder a rational
    scientifically minded person does when observing or experiencing the
    world and universe around us. It would be tragic and sad if ALL they did
    with their magical thinking was deny themselves a sense of wonder, but
    it unfortunately goes FAR beyond that.

    These theists are holding humanity back, they have been for hundreds of years. Let’s just be blunt about that.

    I’m over the argument that most of them are good and decent people,
    because most of them are good and decent people. But it’s the insulation
    these folks provide to the true monsters, dimwits and fucktards that
    share their faith that is retarding human progress.

    It’s fucking ridiculous that things like a person’s sexuality or
    basic scientific principles like evolution are still sticking points or

    That ridiculousness stems from religion, and really nothing else. The
    secular world has been beating religion into submission for centuries,
    which is the only reason folks like Dawkins and nonbelievers and
    homosexuals aren’t burned at the stake anymore. Deep down though, not
    much has changed, because dogma doesn’t change. We’ve simply civilized
    it to a marginal degree, and it wouldn’t take much to send humanity
    marching back into the dark ages with glee.

  • Ken Nardone

    I feel sorry for the “us vs. them” mentality that the right wing Christians in the USA are buying into and propagating. Secular politics is viewed as evil by these people and, in reality, secular politics holds the future of humanity. I do feel sorry for young earth Creationist children and Muslim girls that are indoctrinated into the backwards, antiquated, and wrong ideologies of their parents’ beliefs. Education, science, critical thinking, and human evolution will eventually eradicate religious beliefs but until then, I will pity people that cling to wishful thinking and magical sky gods to make their lives meaningful.

  • bananafaced

    I don’t feel sorry for the religious person outright because they are
    ignorant of all the wonderful things available to them outside their
    religious bubble. I feel sorry for our society and economy that will continue to ‘pay’ for all things religious like ‘tax-exempt’ churches. I feel sorry for our country that will not have a 21st century prepared workforce because science isn’t taught in parochial schools. I feel sorry for all those people who will be hurt by religious hatred like our citizens who died on 9-11.

  • joey_in_NC

    Most of the religious people I know are full of joy. I don’t know how anyone could “feel sorry” for people who are full of joy.

    • entertaining doubts

      “The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.” – George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), preface to Androcles and the Lion

    • observer

      Doesn’t God get angry if you’re not happy with him?

    • Carmelita Spats

      Thanks for the pointless anecdote! I’ll continue…The religious people in my family are joyfully superstitious Jesus-addled cowards who will ACCEPT ALL Vatican-sanctioned dogma so that they can continue to swallow a mouthful of Savior on Sundays. You know what they say about dragging a communion wafer through the street…They have no qualms about beaming a half-wit’s smile as they foist their icky pro-life delusions on others, including banning birth control pills in Guadalajara, Mexico, jailing rape victims who access abortion (the sentence in the state of Jalisco is 30 years for an abortion) and joyfully excusing pedophile priests as “the Holy Mother Church’s wayward children who need our compassion and prayers”. They spend their days joyfully kissing the local bishop’s overstuffed ass, doing penance for non-existent “sins”, opening their coffers to the Vatican and they are enthralled by crucifixes which makes the whole damn thing funnier than a wagon-load of monkeys. Yes, I do feel sorry for them because they are incapable of moral reasoning beyond the first stage as delineated by Lawrence Kohlberg in his theory…

      • joey_in_NC

        Thanks for the pointless anecdote!

        How is it pointless? Do you “feel sorry” more for the person who is happy or the one who is depressed?

        • Jasper

          Do you “feel sorry” more for the person who is happy or the one who is depressed?

          I’d feel bad about people who are in unfortunate situations. Being happy doesn’t mean one isn’t in a bad situation (maybe there’s an overly-optimist mentally handicapped person)… and being depressed doesn’t mean the person is doing poorly. Maybe that person is well off, but suffering from chemical imbalances in his/her brain. I would not feel sorry for that person.

          Reality is a little more nuanced than your simplistic question.

          • joey_in_NC

            Reality is a little more nuanced than your simplistic question.

            For the materialist, “reality” should really be that simple.

            • Jasper

              What is this strange equivocation between “materialism” and “simplicity”?

              The material universe frequently overwhelms us with its complexity. What’s simple are these infantile creation myths. God “speaking reality” into existence, for example. Lightning was just something from Zeus, not the question of particle physics and electrostatic discharges through a dielectric medium.

              Where did animals come from? God just *poofed* them into existence. Our investigations into a materialistic world reveals an immensely complex, ever-diversifying tree of life that’s filtered by a myriad of different factors, diversifying into 5-10 million different species, whether through sexual selection, natural selection, group selection, etc.

              What what point, exactly, is the material world simplistic?

              The difference between me, and a theist, is that I don’t plug “God” into anything I don’t yet understand.

              • joey_in_NC

                What is this strange equivocation between “materialism” and “simplicity”?

                You completely missed the point.

                Why shouldn’t the amount of joy/happiness one experiences be the ultimate gauge for the meaningfulness of one’s life? If the destitute orphan in Tacloban City is still filled with joy and happiness throughout his life, how can you argue that his life is still “worse” than the life of a billionaire playboy living in a mansion but who constantly struggles with insecurity, depression, and substance abuse?

                Again, I point to the Matrix hypothetical.

            • Jasper

              I could continue to dig up examples of a complex material universe. The weather, for example, is so complicated that our most powerful supercomputers can only predict small steps into the future, with any kind of accuracy.

              One of the scientific method’s biggest efforts is to mitigate the complex and overwhelming contaminating factors, controlling the variables, to help isolate a single phenomenon to properly undergo hypothesis testing – often a daunting task (not to mention, something that religion has no concept).

              A single tree can be so complicated that it’s impossible for a single person to draw it out, if that person was doing so on a cell-by-cell basis. Just drawing trees, in general, is very difficult to do in any kind of realistic way. Or try doing that with rocks, or other random complex objects.

            • Jasper

              One thought I’ve been considering is this presupposition many people have that, if something is “too complex”, that an intelligence must have done it.

              However, if we look at what we actually have evidence for, what we see is actually the opposite – if something is very complex, then it must have been done by nature.. because only nature could handle that level of complexity, and any confirmable existing intelligence we can examine is too primitive to pull off anything like it.

            • Anat

              Huh? You think Materialism precludes seeing downstream effects?

    • cyb pauli

      Necrophiles feel joy climaxing into a corpse. Roll that one around in your brain a bit.

      • joey_in_NC

        Necrophiles feel joy climaxing into a corpse. Roll that one around in your brain a bit.

        Unless you think it’s a moral wrong (or that it offends God), then why should you care?

        Roll that one around in your brain a bit.

        • Jasper

          Unless you think it’s a moral wrong (or that it offends God), then why should you care?

          Assuming we’re not talking about violating someone else’s corpse, upsetting the corpse’s relatives…

          Maybe empathy? That thing evolution built into us as a social species? Clearly there’s something wrong with a necrophiliac, and he needs help.

          Incidentally, you seem to have a chronic tendency to deflect with red herrings instead of addressing the actual points people make.

          • joey_in_NC

            Maybe empathy?

            Empathy for whom? The one who is experiencing joy (regardless of how he’s experiencing it, assuming he’s not hurting anyone else)? How are you to judge where he gets his happiness from?

            Clearly there’s something wrong with a necrophiliac, and he needs help.

            And what is so “clearly wrong” about a necrophiliac? How is this more “wrong” than any other fetish that one can think up, provided that no one gets hurt?

            I frequently bring up this hypothetical, but what about someone who is hooked up to a Matrix-like simulator for the rest of his life? The simulator inputs signals into this man’s brain such that he lives the most blissful life imaginable. Assuming no one is harmed by his vegetative state, would you really “feel sorry” for this man, who is happy beyond words?

        • Sunny Day

          Because Corpse’s have more rights than pregnant women.

        • chicago dyke, TOWAN

          wow. what’s that internet law? i have officially seen it all.

          dood. did you just defend *necrophilia???*

          like, wow.

          • 3lemenope

            I think he’s implying, rather, that atheistic materialism leaves no non-arbitrary grounds to reject necrophilia, and that doing so is inconsistent with our insisting that a given atheist’s moral sense is anything other than recourse to sentiment. So, less a defense of necrophilia, and more an attack on atheism for (purportedly) being incapable of rejecting necrophilia as good in light of its ability to give necrophiliacs pleasure which comes not directly at the expense of another living being.

            Or something to that general effect.

    • cyb pauli

      Hemant actually addressed this in the video, too.

    • skeptical_inquirer

      Not if their joy is based on making other people feel terrible or comes from the idea that they’re ‘special’ and that others will pay for not appreciating their specialness aka Hell.

    • cary_w

      I feel sorry for people whose happiness is based on a delusion. I suspect that some of my Christian friends and aquatences feel sorry for me because, even though I’m just as happy as they are, I haven’t found Jesus. It goes both ways.

      • joey_in_NC

        I feel sorry for people whose happiness is based on a delusion.

        Why should it matter that happiness if based on a delusion, as long as the person is happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else? See my hypothetical below about the man being hooked up to a Matrix-like simulator, living the best possible life imaginable.

        It goes both ways.

        Actually, the two cases aren’t the same. Christians believe in an absolute truth, whereas atheists (generally) do not. So it makes sense that Christians could “feel sorry” for joyful non-Christians, but the atheist doesn’t have similar grounds to “feel sorry” for the joyful Christian.

        • cary_w

          The red pill-blue pill choice is an interesting philosophical question, there are valid arguments for either choice. I choose the red pill, I would rather live in reality than blissful ignorance. Because it’s real. Living life in a fantasy world just seems wrong and far too fragile. Just look at the traumatic and difficult times so many ex-Christians go through when their fantasy world falls apart and they are suddenly confronted with reality. What will happen to the blissful people living in the Matrix when someone pulls the plug and they thrown back into reality? I feel sorry for them because their joy is not real, it is just an illusion, I wish they could experience joy in reality.

          I had to look up a few things to see what you meant by “absolute truth” and it appears you have complietly gone off the deep end with this one. Christians believe in absolute truth? You’re kidding! There’s one truth in the bible and one in the world around them, how is that “absolute”? Atheist don’t believe in absolute truth? What? Like we don’t all belive that there are laws of motion, and physical realities inThe world that apply to everyone? You’ve completely gone into crazy-talk here! And who are you to say I can’t feel sorry for the joyful Christian if I want to! I’m the one who feels it! You can’t tell me what I can or can’t feel! And how does that have anything to do with absolute or relative truths anyway?

          • cary_w

            Ignore that black rectangle, discus is screwing up on me and I can’t get rid of it.

  • OhioAtheist

    I don’t feel sorry for the adults, but I do for the children.

    • ZenDruid

      Same here. If a child is constantly forced to swallow that psychopathic god nonsense and original sin nonsense, you will never hear em describe a flower like Feynman could.

      I like to use that Feynman interview as the best-case illustration of how a human child grows up: the sense of wonder remains intact, and the aesthetic appreciation of, well, everything grows right along with the intellect.

      • Leah

        I think you’re taking it for granted that religious people can’t maintain a sense of wonder and an aesthetic appreciation of “everything” (though I’d counter that not everything should be appreciated aesthetically).

        • ZenDruid

          My point is in refutation to the meme that religious people don’t think “we atheists” can even attain a sense of wonder without Gawd.

    • Leah

      As a Christian woman who recently gave birth to her first daughter three months ago, I’ve been thinking about this comment a lot the past couple days. Here is the environment she entered into: her father is a firefighter/paramedic and makes a decent salary, and gets to be home 4-5 days out of the week. I have a masters degree and have done some teaching at the college level, and am currently a PhD student at a state university where I’m engaged in teaching, researching, and writing. She has family on both sides who love and care for her deeply, and who are incredibly supportive. Her church family has been so helpful, giving us clothes, diapers, and money. And I can assure you that my husband and I will always love and provide for her. We’ll give her a good education, carry on the learning at home, teach her to be kind and generous and hard-working and persistent, and put away money for her college fund. Do you really feel sorry for my daughter?

  • Kirk

    Mixed. On an individual level, yes, pitiful beings who require directives to be kind and loving and generous. Who must rationalize their impulses good and bad by the dictates of imaginary entities who enforce their will through an imaginary coercion. On a collective level- the Abrahamist religions float upon a sea of blood and misery. Our perspective has flipped. I know what evil is. It is the word of God and yes, I’m deeply angry about it.

  • cyb pauli

    My hypothesis on religious belief is that it is a compulsion of some kind. We all have weird little irrationalities that we can’t control, evolutionary leftovers buried deep in the brainstem. People special plead for God the same way they do for an abuser. Intelligent people scramble trying to justify their theism, just like addicts do their drug use. I don’t necessarily pity theists, but I do think they need help overcoming this particular cognitive bias.

  • Gideon

    Well, it’s complicated. I have pity for them because they’re imprisoned by lies which they didn’t create. But in too many cases, it’s overshadowed by anger whenever I hear them repeat ignorant negative stereotypes about everyone who isn’t like them. Or when they systematically attempt to exclude other groups from the same level of opportunity/respect/power/prosperity. I realize that religion is just one of the many ways that people do this.

    It’s hard for me to feel sorry for someone who hates or despises me.

    • Leiningen’s Ants

      “It’s hard for me to feel sorry for someone who hates or despises me.”

      In a nutshell.

  • L.Long

    I feel sorry for them only as far as they were brain washed and indoctrinated as kids, and I feel sorry for them as I do their kids. But as soon as they get older enough to start learning on their own and seeing the wider world…..NO sympathy at all.

  • Neko

    Mehta’s objective would be better served if he made videos about the excitement scientific understanding brings instead of videos expressing his pity for those he presumes experience no excitement from scientific understanding (the Pope, for example, has a masters in chemistry). Not all religious people are YEC, Biblical literalist yahoos and those who are, being human, do not respond well to being patronized. (Not that I have a leg to stand on.)

    • chicago dyke, TOWAN

      yes, the “liberal pagan” argument.

      sorry, it’s still bunk. there are no invisible heroes helping you achieve orgasm or whatever. pity. it’s a real feeling and some of us feel it, for those who can’t let go of the need for fairy tales, to make sense of the world.

      there are lots of religions. lots of religious philosophies. the problem? it’s really simple. they all start with “…because this invisible impossible being in the sky says so. and i know so, because, well, i just do! shut up and give me your money.”

      after a while, some of us just say no to that.

      • 3lemenope

        There’s a difference between “say[ing] no to that” and pitying others for saying yes.

  • LesterBallard

    I try to, but many of them make it damn difficult.

  • purelyjason

    What I can’t really understand is how religious people can be so content and satisfied with religious belief. How can they not be curious about why their beliefs are the way they are and how they came to be that way? When I was trying desperately to hang on to my faith as a christian, I was learning as much as I could about the scriptures. Hell, I even studied biblical greek for 3 semesters in college just to read the text in its original language. What I’m trying to say is how can they so easily come to trust that their religion is true without some serious investigation? I mean, if every fiber of life, death and the afterlife hinges on their belief system, wouldn’t they want to have as much understanding of it as possible? How can one be so sure of something so important simply because “that’s how [they] were raised” or other such complacency? All of us here know what lies at the end of this type of study of faith. When one develops a great understanding of it, one really has no choice but to reject it. (Case in point–a recent pew study showing that atheists and agnostics know far more about religious belief than the religious.)

    So I can’t say that I feel sorry for them. To me, religious belief is the result of a lazy mind.

  • Robster

    I do feel sort of sorry for those afflicted with religion because it seems to have such an importance in their lives, all that work, all that non stop confirmation of silly beliefs constantly. It’s a fun point to make when people of various religious flavour rock up on the doorstep to sell the nonsense, I love to suggest they do something of real value, like housing the homeless etc. but no, their “good” is lying to people and just believing in something that is so absurdly nonsensicle that it offers little more than a knowing giggle top those not afflicted and uninterested.