Ed Brayton wrote an article today called Atheists, Please Stop Saying These Things (or maybe it was yesterday in your time) that, like always, is very reasonable and eloquent and I enjoyed reading it. I agree with most of it, but there were some points that I personally disagreed with, and in the name of debate I thought I write this and voice my own thoughts. I suggest you read the article.
I only quote the parts I want to discuss.
3. On a related note, please stop explaining the creation of religion in equally simplistic ways. “Religion was just created to control people” is one that I hear often. Again, there are many reasons why religion was invented. It serves a wide range of needs in society, some of them quite well (creating community and channeling charity, for example). And there’s a good deal of scholarly research and writing on the subject of why human beings are prone to create and belong to religion. If you really think it can be explained so easily by a throwaway phrase like the above, I’m almost ashamed to have you on “my side” of these questions.
Now, of course, it might be more something of my worldview (which might be simplistic). It might be the result of my life in Iran which has warped my view – when you have an oppressive regime which pokes its nose in every aspect of your life, then everything is about power. If a girl wears a short-sleeved jacket it’s a revolutionary move because it challenges the dress code. So, to us Iranians, all aspects of our lives is political and about control.
But I don’t think that my view is warped. I think my view is actually better than someone who lives in a democracy. Truth is, everything that you do is about control. If you defecate in the toilet and not in the dining room, you are observing a social norm. You are being controlled by the society telling you where it’s OK to defecate and where it’s not OK to defecate. Now, this is a very good social rule, I abide by it myself. But, it’s still about control.
When us humans started this thing called “civilization”, we based it on power, and from then on power is the currency exchanged in every action we do sleeping or awake 24/7. There is no human activity that is not about control.
Ed says that religion has good parts too. I agree with that. I disagree that those parts aren’t about control. They’re about good control, but control. Ed uses “communities” and “charities” as example of good parts, which is strange, because they are the most “controlly” aspect of religion.
Communities feel very good to those who are part of them. Not so much to those who are ostracized from them. Communities are about those who are included and those who are excluded. And Islamic Shiite community consists of people who believe in Allah and go to Friday prayers and mourn Imam Hussein every year and all of this is cool and dandy – but also of people who are not gay or atheist. This sense of community, this warm feeling of belonging, is the advantage of being in a community, and the advantage that is taken away from the person who doesn’t belong. That’s why we have closeted atheists. They don’t want to lose the “community” aspect.
Now, what about charities? Aren’t charities a very good method to control people? Aren’t they meant as a moral money laundering system? Of course that’s not true about many charities, but can’t that be true about some of them?
Khamenei’s assets are entirely based on some charities. One of them holds more money than the budget of the nation. These charities have been enriched by western sanctions, while the economy of the nation is going bankrupt. They provide an economic empire for Khamenei. They are the reason that the regime supporters don’t turn against the system, because they are very poor, and meager money they receive from these charities is enough to keep them from not dying. What they really deserve is a democratic governmental welfare system and some jobs that pay them, but what they receive is charity that is connected to military and the regime.
Why do you think Islamist groups are popular in Middle East? Charities. That’s why. No, they’re supporters are not all fundamentalist haters and it’s not because of western imperialism (I hate to break this to you, but not everything we do in our countries is because of you or as a consequence of your actions). The Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt after the revolution because they were the only group with some organization and base. They were allowed under the Mubarak regime to function as charities, and the charities provided them with both the organization and the support among population. Hezbollah has built houses and hospitals in southern Lebanon, working with organized charities. Hamas spread its roots in the Gaza trip using charities. People support Islamist groups because those groups help them.
Seriously, where does the funding for religions come from if not from charities? I mean, all those priests, good or bad, who live positive of negative, are funded by charities, no?
And, ultimately, whether religion has good functions or not, (of course it does), what is its ultimate function? What is the function that all those functions serve? To control.
I’d go further – that is the purpose of human culture. Every other function of human culture is a form of control. It can be good or bad, but it’s control.
4. Stop conflating fundamentalism or Biblical literalism with Christianity itself. Pointing out mistakes, absurdities or contradictions in the Bible may work quite well against a Sola Scriptura advocate, but those people are not the One True Christianity. There is no One True Christianity. In fact, as I said during the panel discussion on Tuesday, there is no Christianity. There are lots of Christianities. The fact that Fred Phelps and Bishop Tutu are both labeled Christian tells you almost nothing about what they actually believe about anything. Christians are not a monolith, they are a diverse and varied group with a wide range of beliefs. Instead of presuming what they believe based on a label, try asking them what they actually believe about the subject under discussion first.
Now I agree with most of these parts: religious people are not monolithic and we shouldn’t assume they are. I disagree with one part though: We might not have One True Christianity, but we do have One False Christianity.
Religions are based on some texts. People claim to follow those texts. It’s true to say that those people who follow those texts more closely are the better practitioners of those ideologies. That they’ve gotten those ideologies better. My dear friend whom I have the utmost respect for, Dan Fincke, disagrees with this. I disagree with his piece too (and I usually agree with him on everything). He says:
Fundamentalists “pick and choose” what they want to believe just as much as liberals do. Christian fundamentalists claim that they are strictly obedient adherents to literal Bible but that is a dubious claim.
Well, my reaction to this is this: they’re still truer followers than the moderates. Like, if we had some grade for “How much do you really follow the religion you claim to follow” fundamentalists get D and moderates get F. Maybe that’s because Christianity has become much more moderate overall, maybe the last true Christian was Torquemada and all of the future Christians are false Christians who are just somewhat closer or farther from the “not Christian” end of the spectrum. Maybe there never even was a True Christian, because no one ever followed all those weird rules in Leviticus, maybe True Christian is a logical impossibility because of all the contradictions in the Bible…
Nevertheless, it’s legitimate to call people on their inner contradictions, and it’s legitimate when to cry bullshit when a moderate Muslims makes absurd claims such as “But if you look at Quran or the Prophet’s life you will see that Islam is not against equality for women” or “when Quran says apostates must be killed it actually means…”
I can logically prove and with a variety of evidence that Quran is a sexist book and it says kill apostates. I am happy that there are moderate Muslims who distance themselves from this stuff, but I still want to call them out on it because we need to teach our children that truth matters and that you still call out what you deem is wrong even if that wrong is less harmful or actually completely harmless.
And it’s not like that this is always against the religion. Like, I agree that Islam really doesn’t support FGM, as there is no verse or hadith or anything in the tradition to suggest it.
8. Tax the churches! Churches are tax-exempt under the same section of the IRS code as the FFRF, ACLU, Americans United and American Atheists. There is no coherent reason why churches should be taxed but not all the non-religious non-profits. The real problem is not that churches are untaxed, it’s that churches are treated differently from other non-profits that are tax-exempt (they don’t have to fill out 990s, don’t have to apply for the status and get special privileges like parsonage allowances). I’m all for equal treatment for churches and other non-profits, but equal treatment also means that if you’re going to tax the churches you have to tax the others too. So unless you’re willing to yell “tax American Atheists” or “tax the ACLU” at the same time, you really need to stop yelling “tax the churches.”
This one is not much of a disagreement but just stating that I do yell “tax American Atheists” or “tax the ACLU”. I mean, if someone attacks the American Atheist headquarters they’re still going to call the police, yes? The municipality is still removing the trash from around their street? Then they should be taxed. Basically, if money goes into it, some of that money is government’s.
I agree with the other points on the article.
Dear Ed, thank you for giving me a voice and a place at Freethought Blogs, so that I have an opportunity to disagree with you.