Top Ten Reasons Religion is Like Pornography

From P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula:

Top Ten Reasons Religion is Like Pornography
  1. It has been practiced for all of human history, in all cultures
  2. It exploits perfectly natural, even commendable, impulses
  3. Its virtues are debatable, its proponents fanatical
  4. People love it, but can’t give a rational reason for it
  5. Objectifies and degrades women even when it worships them
  6. You want to wash up after shaking hands with any of its leaders
  7. The costumes are outrageous, the performances silly, the plots unbelievable
  8. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying it, but it’s nothing to be proud of, either
  9. It is not a sound basis for public policy, government, or international relations
  10. Its stars are totally fake

For more context and discussion of this list (including suggested additions and criticism) visit Pharyngula.

UPDATE (October 4, 2006): The slides for the talk in which this list was given–about why scientists should oppose religion–may be found here.

About Jim Lippard
  • Ryan

    Jim – as a religious person, I guess this just seems like mockery. I understand humor, but much of what Myers says goes beyond that. I guess I’m wondering how you interpret this — if its just humorous to you, if you think it makes any valid points, etc.


  • Jim Lippard

    I think it is funny *because* it is on target. If you don’t think so, does your opinion differ if you limit the scope of “religion” to those you believe to be false?

    #10 is accurate–both religion and pornography have been around throughout recorded human history. For pornography, see the book The Secret Museum.

    #9 is accurate. For religion, see the book Religion Explained.

    The first part of #8 is accurate, the second part is true of some but not all proponents in both areas.

    #7 is hyperbole for both areas.

    #6 is true of some but not all in both areas (in my opinion).

    #5 is hyperbole.

    #4 is true of some but not all in both areas.

    #3 sounds right to me, for some but not all instances in both areas.

    #2 sounds right to me.

    #1 is literally accurate on the religion side, at least for supernatural entities; it’s only figuratively so for pornography.

  • Ryan

    Jim – for most of the negative comments, I have to say that I’m not of the opinion that they apply to religions other than my own either. My responses are below, but I’d also like to say that it seems like Myer’s “joke” is obviously intended to offend people with religious sensibilities simply by comparing their belief system with something most of them abhor (pornography). I guess I really don’t understand why someone would want to do that. It would be like me writing up a list of commonalities between atheism and child molestation, or a list comparing Islam and breakfast bacon. Isn’t the primary purpose of an exercise like this just to mock and offend? What do you think?

    #10. I don’t have a problem with.
    #9. I don’t have a problem with and can be said about atheism as well.
    #8. The latter half of this can apply also to atheism/naturalism. Why generalize at all, especially if you don’t think most religious people are fanatics? It simply angers those who aren’t. The fanatics aren’t listening to you anyway. Reasonable religious people might like to listen to you, but might also be sensitive about constantly being lumped in with fanatics or simply being mocked.
    #7. You think Myers would admit to exaggerating in saying that the religious “can’t give a rational reason” for their religion? Based on what I’ve read from him, I doubt that.
    #6. can also be true of some adherents in any worldview.
    #5. you call hyperbole. From reading many of Myer’s posts, I’m not so sure. He comes across as someone who believes that religious leaders are slimy. Even if it is to be interpreted non-literally, I think the point is that religious leaders are slimeballs. We could say *some* in leadership positions are slimeballs, with any group, but really this is just very vague and will only serve to anger sincere members of the respective religions.
    #4. seems humorous to me.
    #3. Here, how is pornography something to be *proud* of in any instance? And why is it the case that religion *in general* is not something to be proud of? Am I wrong to be proud of my religion if I see it as an integral part of who I am, and a major factor in my personal betterment. You’d also have to admit that this can be true in “some instances” of atheism.
    #2. I agree here, but I don’t know any philosophical or metaphysical worldview (atheism or naturalism included) that is a “sound basis” for any of these things, so it seems trivial.
    #1. Obviously, I don’t agree with your assessment. I don’t think “supernatural entities” are all totally fake, even outside of my particular religion. But I thought he was talking about major figures in the religion, not necessarily the supernatural. *If* that is the correct interpretation, would you agree that major religious figures are totally fake?



  • Jim Lippard


    #1 While I think some religious figures are mythical rather than historical, I didn’t interpret it to be referring to historical religious figures being deceptive. While I know some have historically been deceptive (and some are today), I wouldn’t agree that it’s an essential feature or more common than in any other kind of leadership position.

    #2 I think empirically supported public policy (though not necessarily driven by scientists or technologists–I’m no advocate of “technocracy”) is best. That is distinct from atheism and naturalism, though I think it fits better with naturalism than supernaturalism.

    #3 I think it is reasonable to be proud of positive aspects of religion–to the extent that it promotes ethical behavior, supports the community, produces great works of art, etc. Pornography can do some of that–at least, people involved in pornography and other sex-related businesses can have integrity, be mutually supportive, and produce works of art. The percentage may be smaller, and the absolute numbers are definitely smaller on the pornography side.

    #5 I agree with your point.

    #6 I agree, but don’t overlook the specific doctrines present in most of the major world religions that mandate a role for women that is subordinate to men (e.g., Paul’s directive that women are not to speak in church or teach men). There is some fairly clear misogyny throughout the Bible.

    #7 You may be right about Myers’ view here, but I would disagree with him on that. I think that an evidential case can be made for theism, but I think it is substantially weaker than the case for atheism.

    #8 Fanatics may not be more numerous on a percentage basis among theists than atheists, but in absolute terms they’re overwhelmingly more numerous, making the news on a daily basis.

    #9 I’m not sure I agree–Boyer’s _Religion Explained_ makes the point that because we naturally make inferences about events being caused by agents, scientific reasoning requires us to make an effort to break the natural habits of inference that lead us astray (cf. the kind of heuristics described in _Judgment Under Uncertainty_ by Tversky and Kahneman).

    I’ve omitted our points of agreement.

    I appreciate the comments, Ryan.

  • Mark Plus

    0. Interest in it usually starts at adolescence.