Your Religion May Be Harmful If…

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Le Comte de Reynaud in Chocolat

Nonbelievers exhibit a wide array of reactions to the presence and influence of religion in public life ranging from cool indifference or mild disdain to highly vocal disgust and vitriolic public protest. Frans de Waal has reasonably hypothesized that each person’s background probably plays a major role in determining the strength of his feelings toward the subject. “Possibly, the religion one leaves behind carries over into the sort of atheism one embraces…my thesis [is] that activist atheism reflects trauma. The stricter one’s religious background, the greater the need to go against it and to replace old securities with new ones.” Makes sense to me. I’ve noticed that those with the least patience for charitable dialogue with religious folks often come from the most controlling, most abusive religious contexts. They have good reason to be angry, and they feel a strong internal motivation to combat religion because they’ve seen its dark side.

A person’s natural temperament probably plays a major role in this as well. Some people are just cranky by nature and are disinclined to spend much time trying to see things from another person’s perspective, particularly if that perspective seems intellectually inferior. I’ve noticed that those who didn’t grow up in a strongly religious setting have the hardest time of all trying to identify with the religious mind because they’ve never spent any significant time looking at life through that lens themselves. Conversely, those like me who have spent the majority of their lives inhabiting that world often find it much easier to sympathize with the mind of faith, even if they’ve grown more and more averse to its torturous rationalizations with each passing year. Whichever camp you fall into, you will not get much support from me if your primary mode of interaction with the religious is to name-call, insult, and personally belittle them for believing what they were raised to believe. You can disagree with them without acting like a turd. In fact, the way I see it, when you use personal attacks it tells me you don’t have anything better to offer. If ad hominem is the best you’ve got, I can be forgiven for dismissing you without further thought (and so can everyone else). You’re not helping anyone.

I must also interject here as I often do that there are forms of religion which are far less guilty of the trespasses I will enumerate below. The tenets of liberal Christianity, for example, focus on the same real-world needs which secular humanists seek to ameliorate such as poverty, social oppression, ignorance, hunger, famine, and disease. They do not discourage scientific discovery or innovation, nor do they labor to hinder (or sometimes reverse) social progress the way that some folks seem to want to do today. If Maggie, the protagonist from the story in my last post, had been brought up in a more liberal tradition, of if at least her husband had been from that camp, she would likely still be welcome in her own home today. Unfortunately for her, neither was the case and so her family has become a casualty of the ever-escalating culture wars which virtually dominate American life today.

I want to talk more about what ideological forces created such an insurmountable wedge between Josh and Maggie (please stop now and read their story if you haven’t already), so as you keep reading I will address those places where the list touches on something relevant to their story. If you happen to be a “believer” yourself, please ask yourself as you as you go through this list: “Is there any chance my beliefs actually cause harm for myself or for others?” The extent to which different belief systems do so will vary, but one thing their adherents all have in common is that none of them thinks his or her particular beliefs are guilty of these things. If they did, they would likely be already on their way out of their religion as we speak. Perhaps you are one of those. If you are not, I imagine you’ll find reasons to disagree with each of the points. The only way to know is to read on:

Your Religion May Be Harmful…

1) If it inspires inactivity when action is what is needed. This is one of religion’s “silent killers” because you don’t immediately see the harm that it does. There’s no telling how many opportune moments pass by because people decided to “wait on God” for something which they should have just taken care of themselves. In Maggie’s situation, this problem surfaced at least twice. First, Josh spent a great deal of time in prayer asking God to make Maggie believe again. Not only was this prayer not “answered,” it also reinforced Josh’s belief that it was Maggie—and Maggie alone—who needed to change. During their year of weekly counseling, a number of issues came up as they always do during intensive marital therapy. But instead of facing those issues head-on and doing the hard work of compromise (without which no marriage can truly be healthy), Josh’s belief system encouraged him to see Maggie as the broken one who needed fixing. Ideally, the therapist in this situation should step in and mediate between the two opposite extremes; but in Maggie’s case, the therapist shared views which were identical to Josh’s. It was two against one. And in the ideological world of evangelicalism, compromise is a bad word anyway. Tough luck for Maggie. The second way this surfaced came when Josh had an opportunity to seek full-time employment in order to alleviate Maggie’s exhausting work schedule. Instead of earnestly hunting for a job, he applied for only one dream position and then prayed and waited. When the prayer was denied, he took that as “God’s will” and moved on. Maggie was left to take up the financial slack all by herself because Josh had trusted that God would “do something” and he didn’t.

2) If it teaches you to accept things as they are when they should be changed. If you believe in a supreme being who is capable of doing whatever he chooses to do, then at some level that means that whatever happens is “God’s will.” Now, this continues to be a raging debate among believers who cannot agree on which events God actively causes and which ones he passively allows. But in the end this distinction is arbitrary. An all-powerful deity could step in to change something if he a) existed and b) chose to intervene. When this intervention doesn’t come, it means one of those two things did not happen. So the believer is left with the nonsensical conclusion that whatever happened was somehow according to divine plan, no matter how it unfolded. This placating belief also affects one’s outlook for the future. If you believe that someone or something invisible is at work guiding everything from personal experiences to world events, at some level that has to affect your judgment. You will change both what you do and how you think because of your belief that someone is going to magically make something happen. Josh was taught to believe that once people are “saved” they cannot ever get “unsaved.” This gave him a false hope (which could be a separate point on my list) about his wife’s trajectory, and it made him much slower to accept her for who she was. He spent a good deal of mental and emotional energy anticipating one thing when the opposite made far more sense under the circumstances. Both he and their therapist spent far too much time and energy looking to change Maggie back instead of learning to relate to her as she now was.

3) If it conditions you to overly rely on subjective sources of decision-making. Even the Bible teaches that “in the abundance of counselors there is safety.” But important life decisions are still too often made based on a nebulous “feeling” which the believer supposes indicates that God is talking to him. This is exceedingly subjective and dangerous. It teaches you to look either inwardly to your own random thought processes or outwardly for “signs” which in reality are completely of your own making. The human mind is brilliant when it comes to fabricating meaning out of random things (consider just twenty minutes of nighttime dreaming if you don’t believe me). Too often faith leads people to put more stock in something random or coincidental because they have been taught that “there are no coincidences.” Similarly, they can sometimes put too much trust in the direction of a perceived spiritual authority figure or even a random acquaintance who persuasively claims that “God told me what you need to do.” Even those who poke fun at this sensationalist kind of talk will turn around and do the same things themselves but then describe it with more subtle language. They will uncritically follow the leadership of their own perceived authorities; the only difference is that they don’t admit out loud how willing they are to defer judgment to another person. Because Josh looked to his minister for what to do in his marriage, at times he even went against what felt natural in his relations with his wife because he trusted that God had put this man in their lives to give them direction. It may very well be that if Josh had only been willing to think for himself, the love which he and Maggie had for each other may have guided them through their crisis.

4) If it discourages critical thinking skills. I could go on about this for days. Like the inactivity inspired by so much praying for and waiting on divine intervention, this characteristic of faith is another silent killer. It works in ways that are very difficult to observe because it operates beneath the surface in a highly diffuse way. Just as an autoimmune disorder quietly affects seemingly unrelated systems and biological functions, leaving the body vulnerable to ailments of many kinds, so faith often acts like a dampener on a person’s critical thinking skills. You can only be told so many times of the inherent irrationality of “the things of the spirit” before you begin to believe that some of the most important things in life aren’t even supposed to make sense, so you quit expecting them to. If you get enough of this, you’ll eventually become very easy to dupe, even while considering yourself very smart. Frequent assurances that we’re not supposed to understand some things kills our natural curiosity and numbs the very hunger for knowledge which has defined the human race (this happens most among the subcultures trying the hardest to be “biblical”). For example, some who make their home in evangelical churches become so docile and gullible that they will faithfully support a political party which claims to champion “biblical values” but favors the rich over the poor and works tirelessly to eliminate the social programs on which the impoverished and the elderly depend. Their inconsistency alarm has been silenced so many times that it no longer even catches their attention. In many ways this may be the most deleterious of all negative effects of religion because it disables the one thing that could shine a revealing light on all these other problems I am listing: Our critical thinking skills.

5) If it teaches you to distrust science. Granted, some forms of religion don’t do this and thankfully there are growing numbers of believers who are coming around to accepting basic scientific principles like common ancestry and climate change. But where I live you will have a hard time even finding a science teacher who teaches either one of those things. I’ve taught at several public schools over the years and I often ask them how they address the subject of evolution. They usually answer, “I don’t; I try to avoid the subject altogether.” If I inquire further, I typically find that their church background taught them it is a “lie from the pit of Hell.” But these are biology teachers in public schools and they don’t accept what Bill Nye calls “the most fundamental idea in all of life science.” How is that possible? It’s possible because churches all over the country so strongly disapprove of the idea that they openly resist its propagation, exerting enormous pressure on school systems to either avoid the topic or give equal time to their religion in the (government sponsored) classroom. This same distrust of science leads them to fight environmental protection, global warming initiatives, space exploration, and even stem cell research. Their resistance to the latter may very well be the only thing keeping us from reversing spinal injuries and finding cures for hundreds of diseases.

6) If its other-worldly promises distract you from finding solutions to this-world problems. You will not seek to preserve our ecosystem if you believe a divine judge is going to destroy the place himself in retributive anger. You will not devote sufficient resources to alleviating the physical suffering of people around the world if you believe that saving their souls is more important than saving their bodies. You will not prioritize finding a cure for diseases which you believe were sent by God as a punishment for unacceptable “lifestyle choices.” You will not seek prompt medical attention if you have been taught that prayer can work as well as medical treatment. And you will be far less likely to work to equalize social and economic disparities if you believe people “shouldn’t be so concerned about things of this world.” As with point #2 above, if your religion tells you that people should just learn to accept their lot in life “because God,” then you are likely standing in the way of human progress. Which leads me to the next point. Your religion may be harmful…

7) If it leads you to actively discriminate against others because of their gender, their sexual orientation, or their beliefs. I’ve written about this before. There is something fundamentally flawed about trying to squeeze 21st-century people into a 1st-century mold. Your religion may be harmful if you feel compelled to force everyone everywhere from every era into an ancient near eastern social template. Do you think women shouldn’t work outside the home? And you live in the 21st century? That almost certainly traces back to your religion. Do you think people who are attracted to the same sex shouldn’t be legally allowed to marry? I’ll bet money that’s because of your religion. Do you believe that non-Christians shouldn’t be trusted with positions of civic authority or legal power? Either your name is S.E. Cupp or else you are allowing religious intolerance to override any appreciation for the kind of pluralism which lies at the heart of the U.S. Constitution. I find it ironic whenever churches host a patriotic celebration as if their religious devotion didn’t so often put them in direct opposition to the American tolerance for social and religious differences. The very first of the Ten Commandments demands unrivaled allegiance to Yahweh while the Bill of Rights begins by outlawing the favoring of one religion over another. Being an evangelical or fundamentalist Christian in America presents some fascinating instances of cognitive dissonance.

8) If it teaches you to fundamentally distrust yourself and to view yourself as essentially broken, weak, or unable to think for yourself. Not too long ago I caught a sermon in which the preacher compared everyone to sheep. As many preachers often to, he took great pains to stress the stupidity of sheep, and their great need to be led by someone else. This, he argued, is a good way to think about ourselves. If reading that does not make something boil inside you then you have become as desensitized to that kind of talk as I was when I was still “in church.” But messages like that should make you angry. This compulsion to give such a low self-image to people is despicable, and it should be seen for what it is. It teaches people to see themselves as unable to determine their own steps, unable to think and to dream and to pursue goals of their own choosing. It cuts at the heart of what it means to be an intelligent being, and as with the other points I have made, this holds us back as a species from becoming what we could be.

9) If it sucks a significant amount of time or money from your life. How many hours a week does religious devotion steal away from people who are already too busy to take care of themselves and their families? How much money has been given out of almost empty pockets in order to sustain the expensive machinery of religious tradition? If you’ll simply ask to see the budget breakdown of a typical suburban church you will likely find that an infinitessimally small percentage of the money that you give goes towards helping the kinds of people on whom Jesus reportedly focused his followers’ attention. The bulk of those funds goes to things related to maintaining the church property and to the salaries of the church staff. If it is a very large church like the one I grew up in ($10M annual budget), there will also be promotional costs for posters, brochures, video production, sound and lighting equipment, large musical productions, and more bells and whistles than I care to enumerate. Some of their money will go to pay for “missions,” but if you follow that money as well, you will see that it similarly goes to pay for the kinds of things which I’ve already listed. This money is collected tax-free, and it has been estimated that nearly $71B is lost every year in America alone because of that exemption ($21B just from uncollected property taxes). It turns out that religion is a lucrative industry, and it does relatively little to help those who need assistance the most.

I’ve listed before what benefits I found I received from becoming an atheist, and while your experience may not match mine exactly, that list came from an honest reflection on how it impacted me. Now that I’ve reached the end of today’s list, I see that if you take the opposite of each item from the previous list it will parallel much of what I’ve discussed today. I’m sure many could add items to both of these lists, so feel free to do so in the comments. I didn’t even cover the more egregious problems which come from the more extreme elements of fundamentalist religion. I could have talked about genital mutilation or suicide cults or the attack on New York City and Washington on September 11, 2001, but those topics have already been covered thoroughly by others. I speak of the culture in which I grew up, and in which I still partially live. What I have listed represents the things that I see most often around me. If you are a person of faith and you can honestly say that you do not identify with any of the things I’ve listed, then please disregard what has been said here. But first, would you please do us all a favor and speak to the rest of the church on our behalf? They will not listen to me; they need to hear this from you.

UPDATE:  Hemant Mehta over at Friendly Atheist turned this list into a video.  Check it out!

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About Neil Carter

I wear many hats (and none of them pay well!): I am a school teacher, a tutor, a personal trainer, a supplement pusher, a driving instructor, a swim coach, and a father. I also help moderate a growing discussion group of more than 400 atheists in Mississippi and I’ve recently started a more public forum for anyone interested in discussing issues related to skepticism and/or life in the Deep South.

  • http://www.blogantagonist.com Christina

    If you only knew how many times my husband and I have discussed the fact that people of faith use their beliefs as a justification to remain passive, dismiss fears they find too difficult to reconcile, and absolve themselves from responsibility when their apathy results in a less than desirable income. At best, it’s merely self-serving. At worst, (as with Josh and Maggie) it’s thoroughly and actively destructive. And you enumerated all the reasons why beautifully with this post. Can I print this out and carry it around with me? I promise to give proper attribution.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      But of course. And don’t sweat the attribution. This ain’t much of an occupation for fortune and glory.

      • http://www.blogantagonist.com Christina

        That was meant mostly to be tongue in cheek. But since I have your “blessing”….

  • Travis

    I’m a Christian who agrees wholeheartedly with all but #9. If something is important to you it’s going to involve your time and your money. Which is not to say most church money could not be much better spent. Other than that, good list.

    And I’ll add one more: Your religion may be harmful if it leads you to think bad things that happen to others are their fault, or that bad things that happen to you are your fault.

  • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

    Every Christian I know does everything on the list. I live in the middle of a lot of bad religion. I would love to meet more liberal Christians. It makes total sense that the level of crazy in the religion you left relates directly to how you view that religion when you leave. I will admit it is very hard for me not to be angry. I don’t want to be an angry atheist, I just want to live my life, havn’t quite figured out how to let it all go.

    • http://gravatar.com/drankin905 Dennis Rankin

      Came here from Friendly Atheist. First time visiting and I am sure I’ll stick around from now on. Brilliant post!

      My fairly liberal but believing-mostly-when-it’s-convenient wife, relatives and friends claim to be free of any of the “irrational” stuff that religion and wishful thinking teaches. And yes, they all do to a certain level what is listed here and like Tonya says, it is hard not be angry. But then again, I do not know who came up with this, but I learned it from Greta Christina: “if you are not angry; you are not paying attention”

  • Gra*ma Banana

    I follow a very thoughtful blogger who is also a Presbyterian Minister in Austin Texas. I am agnostic but I appreciate that this minister is passionate about his faith and thinks critically about his place in the world and by example does no harm. http://www.jimrigby.org/

  • http://ilostmyprayerhanky.com Monte

    Hey Godless. Great post. I had wondered why, when I started doubting some of my faith, I would reach out to others of a similar mind, and SOME of them really seemed like turds. You brought up great points about their potential backgrounds and personalities. That was good food for my outlook :) Thanks!

  • http://allsports.usana.com Michael

    Ironically, your list applies to many, I would even venture to say most, atheists, agnostics and free thinkers (collectively, “atheists”) with only a little modification:

    1) If it inspires inactivity when action is what is needed. What atheists love to do most of all is whine about how the evil Christians are oppressing them and preventing them from living a wonderful life, free from religion. Don’t believe me? Check on the comments over at “Free Thought Blogs” or in the “Atheist Nexus” forum or in the forum associated with “Internet Infidels/The Secular Web.” What you’ll see is pages and pages of atheists talking about the latest post on “World Net Daily,” the latest utterance of some right-wing fundy politician or the antics of the Roman Catholic church, with not a single person explaining what they intend to DO about it. I’m not claiming that atheism causes people to remain passive in the face of evil, but there is no evidence that atheists are any more likely to take necessary action when the situation calls for it.

    2) If it teaches you to accept things as they are when they should be changed. Most atheists did change from their membership in a religion to a slightly freer state outside such, but it seems to have drained the energy out of them to make the switch, because they do very little with their lives afterwards.

    3) If it conditions you to overly rely on subjective sources of decision-making. Again, there is no evidence that atheists are any more likely to be objective about their beliefs than are the rest of the population. Sure, atheists are correct in disbelieving that any gods exist, but they act as if because they are right about that one thing, then they are right about everything, just because they are atheists.

    4) If it discourages critical thinking skills. Yet again: Other than the topic of the existence of gods, there is no evidence that atheists are any better at critical thinking than anyone else. Belief in “woo” is as prevalent among atheists as it is among the general population, perhaps a little more so. The fact that most atheists in America are Democrats, and believe that puts them on the political left, shows that they have spent little time critically examining how far to the *right* the American Democratic party really is.

    5) If it teaches you to distrust science. Other than the atheists who fall for woo, the rest of the atheists are pro-science. The problem is that they are so pro-science they treat it as a religion, a religion known as “scientism.” The instance where this is most obvious is the topic of climate change. Very few laypeople understand climate change and how it is going to affect life on this planet. They are too lazy to learn much about it. Take a look, however, at how they react to dissenters: Even the most innocuous comments of doubt about the need to radically change our economic system are met with accusations of being a “denialist,” which is what members of the cult of scientism call heretics against their religion.

    6) If its other-worldly promises distract you from finding solutions to this-world problems. Meh. This is just a rehash of #1 and #2.

    7) If it leads you to actively discriminate against others because of their gender, their sexual orientation, or their beliefs. Dongle-gate anyone? Read the comments in the various atheist blogs and observe the vitriol heaped on someone for not being the *right kind* of feminist. And, certainly, just read how even the most benign of theists are treated when atheists band together.

    I’m going to skip ahead to:

    9) If it sucks a significant amount of time or money from your life. As someone noted above: If you care about stuff, you’ll spend time and money on it. The only waste of time for atheists, as atheists, is that lost to the internet, yelling at religionists.

    Now I want to address:

    8) If it teaches you to fundamentally distrust yourself and to view yourself as essentially broken, weak, or unable to think for yourself. This is one for the atheists. No atheists feel this way from giving up religion, but it sure takes a long time for them to get over the lingering self-loathing after they break free.

    This is the most important thing that atheists should do for each other, in my never humble opinion: Help each other recover from the psychological scars of religion. Unfortunately, as there is not formal “Theists Anonymous” organization or any kind of group for those who have recently escaped from religion that is made up of educated lay people who can guide new atheists through the grieving and recovery process, then new atheists generally turn to the internet, where the angry atheists hold court. Rather than having the chance to heal and move on, new atheists are constantly exposed to the hate-filled posts of the nearly psychotic strain of atheists, who come to dominate most blogs and comment threads because rational atheists eventually just get tired and leave.

    There are a few places that rational atheists can visit to find religion addressed with some moderation, this blog being one. And I want to give Greta Christina props for her work soliciting de-conversion stories that she is going to collect into a book for new atheists. These are good starts, but we atheists need to help each other regain our confidence and sense of self-value. We need to spend less time worrying about what’s bad about *them* and put more attention on what’s good about *us*.

    Yes? No?

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

  • http://allsports.usana.com Michael

    What does ^that mean?

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      That was me trying to be cute. My longer answer is that you said several things which do not match my experience. I’ll simply list them here:
      You said atheist don’t do anything with their lives, but the reality is that they do quite a bit but they are far less likely to do the things they do while intentionally drawing attention to their atheism in the process, unlike many Christians who show up wearing specially-made t-shirts and passing out tracts which advertise their religion. You also assert that atheists are no more likely to be objective about their beliefs but that doesn’t track with my observations, either. I see a commitment to self-doubt, critical thinking, and a love of the scientific method with its ability to reduce cognitive bias. Evidently you must be looking somewhere else. While you’re at it, you’ll have to define “scientism” for me because the only place I’ve ever heard that used is among theists who look askance at all science because it keeps challenging their religious beliefs. There is some truth to your statement about overly trusting left-wing politicians, but most of my friends find fault with all popular political parties.

      Your main beef seems to be that atheists complain so much, and I find it interesting that you hold up Greta Christina as an example of an exception, especially since she just published a book entitled “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?: 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless.” You want them to move on, I suppose. But that presupposes that the complaining and confrontations don’t constitute some of the “action” that their situation demands. You called this “inactivity” and compared it to the inactivity inspired by prayer, but they’re not analogous.

      “What atheists love to do most of all is whine about how the evil Christians are oppressing them…” You say that like it’s a bad thing. But what if they ARE being oppressed? Should they sit down and shut up? Is that your solution? What if they live in a culture that still doesn’t even trust them with positions of power because they are considered second-class citizens? What action do you recommend in that case?

      • http://allsports.usana.com Michael Enquist

        I’m going to address Neil’s post above about oppression of atheists, because it will also address most of his other points:

        The disingenuousness of white, middle-income, college-educated professionals claiming to be oppressed is what pisses me off the most about the “atheist community.” I was trying to throw Ms. Christina a bone, because I was hoping to encourage the point of view required to write a “welcome to the world” guide for new atheists – To be effective, such a book would have to be completely the opposite of her “99 things I hate about Xtians.”

        A vocal fraction of atheists keep beating the drum about how downtrodden we are because of two studies, which are referred to without citation. One indicates that the people who bothered to respond are less likely to vote for an atheist candidate who identifies as such than they are to vote for a homosexual or a Jew or a Mormon. The other seems to say that the respondents would not knowingly hire an atheist as a baby sitter. If someone could provide links to the full studies, I will show you the logical and technical flaws in both, but I am at this time going to address to failures of critical thinking related to each.

        Thesis 1: There is no value in electing atheists candidates.

        An atheist candidate would be a Democrat, a Republican, a Green, a Libertarian, a Progressive, or a member of any other already established political party. There is no political point of view that is a consequence of being an atheist. If we look at the political topic that is most likely to be of concern for atheists; separation of church and state, we see that all the good laws we enjoy right now – keeping religion out of the writing of laws, and politicians out of the running of churches – we written, passed, and interpreted by theists. Thomas Jefferson, the fellow who coined the term, was a Deist. He believed in a divine being that set the universe in motion and guided men’s actions towards the good. The Bill of Rights was written by theists and ratified as part of the US Constitution by States where the majority population, and certainly all of the elected politicians, were believers. The legal decision that gives us the “Lemon Test” was handed down by a Supreme Court made up of theists.

        Whatever good there is coming to us in the US from our government has come from theist politicians and appointed officials. There is no evidence that atheist politicians would do any better.

        Thesis 2: Atheists hold positions of great responsibility throughout our economy and our society.

        Taken any medications lately? Did you know the religious point of view of the people who designed, researched, developed, tested, manufactured, delivered and prescribed those drugs for you? Have you ever refused a drug because someone in that chain was a theist? Has a theist ever avoided a drug because someone in that chain was an atheist? Has a theist ever stood at the end of a bridge, telling drivers to go around because some of the engineers and builders were atheists? Do you know of anyone who sold their apartment because the architect was an atheist? Which airline has lost business for hiring atheist pilots or baggage handlers? Are there no atheists in the EPA, the FDA, the FBI, the CIA, the FAA, NASA or NOAA?

        For anyone to claim that atheists (in America) are living in a society that does not “trust them with positions of power because they are considered second-class citizens” they need to be wearing blinders as thick as those worn by young-earth creationists. Atheists are in positions of power all over the USA.

        What would I have us do? Come out, or not. It depends on the person. If someone feels that by letting their atheism be known, they would lose something important, my question to them is, “What are you gaining by 1. lying to yourself and those around you, 2. working for the benefit of people who (you believe) would hate you if they knew the truth?”

        Not every atheist feels the need to be in the face of theists. And those who do need to look inside themselves, first, to see what it is they are really so angry about. Blaming others for your misfortunes is a coward’s cop-out that prevents you from looking at and solving your problems. If an atheist wants to claim, “I don’t have any problems. I only have problems with theists.” My response is, “Then you don’t have any problems at all, and no one is stopping you from having a wonderful life.”

        The problems that need solving in our world will require more than 2% of the population to overcome. If atheists want to spend their time telling theists how stupid and evil are their beliefs, then the atheists have just rejected alliances with 98% of humanity.

        What’s more important to you (dear reader): Wagging your finger at theists, or helping people meet their needs?

        What do I do? I travel around 3 states, repairing biomedical equipment. I am in a position of responsibility, helping to provide medical care to believers and non-believers alike. I also work as a career coach, challenging people to direct their work to satisfying not only their material needs and wants, but to changing their workplace so it is in line with their values. My third career is as a business owner, helping others start businesses of their own. In my personal life, I am a husband and a father who is raising three boys to be brave enough to be caring and honest.

        I have never felt oppressed for being an atheist. Whenever someone tries to put obstacles in my path, I just go around. If I can do it, why can’t you?

        • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

          Michael, I’m going to keep my reply to this rant short. You have no idea what my life is like. And I could not expect you to. I live in Mississippi. You live in what? The Pacific Northwest? Washington State? Are you kidding me with this? Of course you don’t see people being mistreated for being atheists.

          The condescension dripping from your comment is a bit sickening. But I doubt you value my opinion all that much, seeing that you find me “disingenuous.” So I’ll just leave it at “You don’t know what it’s like for an atheist where I am.”

          • Gra*ma Banana

            I also live in Mississippi and I understand exactly. I fear reprisals every day in case someone finds out. Thank you godlessindixie for even hosting this blog at this time and in this place.

          • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com Captain Cassidy

            I deconverted while living in Texas. I literally (not figuratively or metaphorically but LITERALLY) had to flee for my life from my abusive husband, who was–and still is–a preacher. I endured countless Inquisition sessions from well-meaning Christian friends over my heretical views on women’s rights even while I was still actually a fervent Christian, for that matter. I actually feared for my safety at times. Being out of lock-step can be lethal where I’m from. It was mind-blowing to see this bit of condescension. Oh, but apparently I should have “just” gone around that treatment! Well, hell! That solved everything! Oh wait, no, it didn’t.

            Any solution that involves chirping the word “just” (as in “just do this! It’s what I do!” or “you should ‘just’ do this one thing I think would solve everything”) is very likely going to be a complete non-solution. If it were “just” that easy, you’d “just” have done it. That’s privilege speaking–and a nasty case of privilege blindness at that. It makes you out to be some sort of idiot or blithering fool who didn’t see the solution “just” hovering in front of you. Non-solutions like those are not only the opposite of helpful but an impediment to communication. I’d have had a lot more respect for Michael had he asked, in sincerity rather than in sanctimonious preaching, “Why couldn’t you have done X?” and then listened to your reply, rather than wagging his finger at you for not “just” doing what he does in his drastically different life situation. What he did is called a silencing tactic. He implies that you have no right to call out the abuses of Christianity as you see them or to report honestly on your experiences. He tries to make you feel bad/guilty for writing about these things because in his exalted opinion, there are better things he thinks people should be writing about, and apparently he is under the very mistaken notion that he has control over what you write. You are right to object to being treated in such an insufferable way.

            What an amazing world this would be if people listened more to each other, took each other seriously as valid human beings, and stopped trying to control or invalidate each other’s experiences and situations.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            LOL. Your comments about saying “just” reminds me of this:

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

          • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com Captain Cassidy

            Oh for the ability to upvote.

  • Thinker1121

    I agree with Michael’s sentiments, though not with most of his specific arguments. In my experience, religion definitely does all of the things Neil describes in his post, but these things are definitely not limited to religion. After my de-conversion, I was really angry for a long time that most of my non-religious friends were just as harsh, judgmental, and close-minded as my religious family and former fellow church members ever were towards non-believers. And for me, the self-righteousness and the condescension were the things I hated and wanted to get away from…but I realized that those things hung around ALL groups…it was only the people/ideas towards which the condescension was directed that changed. This is when I started getting interested in the psychology of morality – I came to realize more and more just how tribal morality can be. The moral values one holds does not seem to matter…the tribal “us vs. them” mentality persists regardless.

    There was a book not too long ago that looked at changing political and religious patterns in the US since the 1950s. The idea was that in the 1950s, churches had an equal mix of liberals and conservatives and that the un-churched/non-believers were also a mix of liberals and conservatives. Today, churches are mainly full of conservatives and the un-churched/nonbelievers are primarily liberal. The book sought to discover whether people changed their politics to fit their religious views or vice versa. The conclusion was that people changed their religious views to accommodate their politics. This result took my breath away. I couldn’t believe it. The idea that people were basically making a decision on whether to believe in the supernatural based on their political views seems totally ridiculous. That’s when I realized that we have to be VERY careful to make sure we’re modifying our beliefs for the reasons we think.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      The existence or non-existence of God is not a question of politics. I was a conservative when I became convinced the whole thing is made up. All political changes for me followed that change. So I guess I’m a tough sell on that one.

  • Thinker1121

    Fascinating! I’d love an opportunity to chat with you more about your politics sometime. I had a totally different experience. I was conservative when I was a Christian too, but when I became an atheist, my politics didn’t change. This is partly why I became so frustrated. I didn’t know at the time that giving up religion also meant I would lose almost all of my friends who shared my political views. Today I mostly surround myself with liberals, but honestly, I find self-righteous liberals only slightly less annoying than self-righteous Christians.

  • http://skepti.cc Jack Carlson

    I enjoyed reading your list and the explanation of each point. I agree with much of what you’ve said. I would only add to point 6; If its other-worldly promises prevent you from finding happiness and joy in this life because it tells you that this world is evil, and a better world is awaiting after you die.

    Too many theists miss the true wonder of this life we have because either they’re willfully denying that this life can be good or because they’re too busy giving their god credit for everything and failing to appreciate the complexity of life evident in the sciences.

  • http://allsports.usana.com Michael Enquist

    Neil,

    And you have no idea what my life has been like. Was your father a mean drunk who told you that you made him sick just for living? Who every day passed on all the hatred and abuse he received from his own father? Who was drunk nearly every day – mean drunk? Was your mother a passive-aggressive enabler who hid in the Bible rather than face reality?

    We all have our “crosses to bear.” I grew up in an home environment of mental and physical abuse. When I was a Christian, I believed that I deserved it, because I was a sinner and this is what sinners got. Deconverting not only saved me from feeling like a sinner, but also allowed me the freedom to forgive my parents for *their* problems and to decide to make my own life based on reason, integrity and courage, rather than resentment, self-loathing and fear.

    In making my own life, I traveled to many places on this planet, and have lived and worked in many States of the USA, including Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, Utah, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Texas and Louisiana. I do now live near Seattle, because I chose it. But not because of any feeling that I would be freer here as an atheist, but because I wanted snow-capped peaks near ocean shores, cool temperatures and green most of the year. I chose it.

    My reward for becoming an atheist has been that feeling that I can chose everything in my life – where I live, what kind of work I do, how I raise my children, how I interact with my still theist family, and what power others have over me. If any atheists reading this do not have the feeling that you can make your life exactly how you want, then you are missing out on the single most important reason to become an atheist in the first place.

    And how you react to the feelings my posts bring up as you read them is also your choice.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      My reaction is indeed my choice, although that’s what people often say who do not like taking responsibility for their own words.

      I stand by my criticism that your obvious condescension is deplorable. There is a reason people like me highlight the negative effects of fundamentalism. It affects people’s lives. And speaking up about those effects is a part of the process of fighting it. Perhaps this is no longer your battle. That’s fine. It is, however, very much mine because it is a part of my current daily life in ways which I do not elucidate on my very public blog because it would be inappropriate.

      Will you show me the respect of refraining from telling me what I am and am not facing in my own personal life? I have certainly not done such to you.

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  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com lotharson

    Hello godless one :-)

    As I have said elsewhere,

    I also disagree with 9) and if it were true we ought to conclude that antitheism is harmful ;-)

    But this leaves the question open if non-harmful religions fulfilling all these criteria exist.

    I believe that for an unbiased observer, a look at the Progressive Christian channel should suffice to show it is the case.

    And the folks there (and I for that matter) are constantly debunking fundamentalism, both in our real life and on the Internet.

    So one cannot accuse us of “tolerating” fundamentalism or provide it with a fertile ground upon which it can flourish.

    It is just that, unfortunately, in North America the influence of Progressive Christianity is not strong enough to overturn religious conservatives.

    But in Germany (and in France) it’s largely the case.

    By the way I think that one should replace the word “religion” by the more general one “ideology”.

    I would love to learn yor thoughts on that and you seem to be much less agressive towards liberal and progressive believers and much more objective than other American atheists.

    Cheers.

  • Gra*ma Banana
    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      Thanks for the heads-up. Hemant’s a machine. Seven posts in one day blows my mind.

      • Gra*ma Banana

        Yeah and he even had time to email me and thank me for buying his book “I Sold My Soul on Ebay”.

  • http://gravatar.com/logprof logprof

    I have a quibble. You wrote:

    This money is collected tax-free, and it has been estimated that nearly $71B is lost every year in America alone because of that exemption ($21B just from uncollected property taxes).

    –My disagreement: Money collected by the government is also essentially “lost.”

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      Indeed, but couldn’t the same be said about money collected by a church? ;)

      • logprof

        No dispute there. I’m just saying that tax exemption is a weak argument about the wastefulness of religion. :-D

        • Lee

          Its not the tax exemption so much, though it is a bit silly for the government to indirectly endorse such things, it’s more about the waste of money spent on “putting on the show”. If you’ve never, review an annual church budget to see where the majority of your contributions go. Very little actually finds its way to those in need. Imagine if monies spent on elaborate facilities, hefty pastoral salaries, housing allowances, utilities, maintenance, etc. were instead given to more charitable centric organizations where the disbursement of funds is audited each year. There is unbelievable financial waste tied up in keeping the church machine “running”. Now, the argument could be made that individuals would waste it on something even less beneficial, but two wrongs…

  • DoomRater

    I’m a Christian and I support every single message stated here.

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  • Cassie

    As a Satanist I concur with most of what you say here; and it is nicely said.

    • Lee

      Ok, Cassie I’ll bite. Either you’re a satanist or you’ve just fulfilled #7 and #8.

      • Cassie

        Not sure what you mean. I certainly am a Satanist and I don’t discriminate against others and I do trust my own judgement.

        • Lee

          Very well, just wanted to clarify…thought maybe I sensed some sarcasm.

          • Lee

            Just curious…theistic or atheistic Satanism?

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  • CrazyLogic

    I’ve come across another one that’s harmful. It compels you to belittle and humiliate people that don’t agree with you. Although this one can apply to the more obnoxious atheists and agnostics, I’ve seen it do a lot more harm (and felt it a lot more) when it was a Christian attacking me personally simply because I refused to say “you’re right.”

    Seriously, I was told I should have been aborted because I just kept saying “there is a separation of Church and State, therefore if your reasoning to ban this by law is based on your religion even when in direct disregard to doctrine from other (non-Christian) faiths, it should not be included in your argument.”

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